The 5.5 million people who use New York City's subway system every day don't need to be told that the subway is gross. But new research conducted by the Weill Cornell Medical College has revealed just how nasty subway stations are—and even New Yorkers might be surprised by what was found lurking there. Researchers spent 18 months swabbing subway stations and trains along the entire system for DNA, and according to the Wall Street Journal, “found germs that can cause bubonic plague uptown, meningitis in midtown, stomach trouble in the financial district and antibiotic-resistant infections throughout the boroughs.”
WSJ also created a fun (depending on your version of fun, I guess) interactive map that provides a look at the bacteria discovered in each of the city's 466 subway stations. At 42nd Street-Bryant Park, the closest subway to the mental_floss offices, scientists swabbed two benches, a turnstile, and a stairway rail. They found 69 unique bacteria that are associated with things like heart valve infections (Enterococcus gallinarum), food poisoning (Bacillus cereus), radiation resistance (Acinetobacter radioresistens), and urinary tract infections (Aerococcus viridans). Gross. They also found bacteria associated with mozzarella cheese and Italian cheese.
Bacteria DNA accounted for 38.99 percent of DNA collected at the Bryant Park station, while 2.73 percent of the DNA collected belonged to non-bacteria like insects, green plants (which makes sense; there's a small flower shop in the station), humans, and rodents. The rest of the DNA couldn't be identified.
Interesting finds at other stations include Leuconostoc citreum, a bacteria associated with the making of kimchi and sauerkraut; Pseudomonas putida, which is used in oil clean up; and Shigella sonnei, which causes dysentery (riding the subway just got a little bit more like Oregon Trail).
The scientists—who hope they can use their research to discover new ways to track disease outbreaks and fight antibiotic resistant bacteria—discovered 562 species of bacteria. Thankfully, most are harmless, and the scientists said the levels in the system pose no significant health threats. “I don’t want people to be terrified,” Weill Cornell researcher Christopher Mason told the WSJ. “I want them to be intrigued.” Still, if you're traveling on the New York City subway system, you might want to carry a bottle of hand sanitizer—and use it often.