Subway swabbers find a microbe jungle and thousands of new species

By | May 29, 2021

The New York Times reports:

For centuries, naturalists have mapped the world’s flora and fauna. They have assembled atlases of migratory birds and cold-water fishes, sketched out the geography of carnivorous animals and alpine plants.

Now, an enormous international team of researchers has added a new volume to the collection: an atlas of microorganisms that can be found in the world’s subways. It contains data collected by more than 900 scientists and volunteers in 60 cities on six continents, from Stockholm to Shanghai, Sacramento to Sydney.

“We had a coordinated phalanx of people with swabs and masks, collecting genetic material from cities around the world,” said Christopher Mason, a geneticist at Weill Cornell Medicine who led the research.

Although each city had its own unique microbial profile, there was a “core urban microbiome” that all of the cities shared, they found. The scientists, members of the international MetaSUB consortium, also discovered more than 10,000 previously unidentified species of viruses and bacteria. They published the findings in the journal Cell on Wednesday. [Continue reading…]

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