We’re raised believing that trams, buses, public transport and infrastructure are teeming with microbes and germs. And while that might be true in most cases, the cars on the Boston subway system are the exception to the rule.
That’s not to say that the Boston subway – dubbed by commuters as the T – is not filled with bacteria. However, according to a new study, the microorganisms that these passengers travel with aren’t that different from the organisms usually living on the human skin.
In other words, science says they’re not causing any harm. More than 100 microbial samples were collected from ticket machines, hanging straps, and seat in six types of train surfaces.
A team of researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health analyzed the swabs, revealing that there were fewer microbes with antibiotic resistance than those that can be found in the human gut.
“They’re exactly what you’d run into shaking somebody’s hand,” explained study co-author Curtis Huttenhower.
In general, train surfaces were coated with microbes from human skin; Firmicutes, Proteobacteria, and Actinobacteria were found in 20 percent of the microbial community. The bacterial species Lachnospiraceae, Veillonella, Prevotella – which are gut and oral microbes – were found in the lowest levels.
Hanging grips were the ones covered in the highest amount of microbes, followed by touch screens and seats. According to the lead author of the study, Tiffany Hsu, a graduate student at Harvard, the team was surprised by the amount of DNA found on the hanging grips, because they are less used by passengers.
On the other hand, she explained that the discovery does make sense seeing that porous surfaces accumulate microbes quicker and more efficiently than solid objects (think metal poles).
The findings of the study can establish a baseline for identifying deviations in public health; they could also be used as an early warning system for public health threats, including flu outbreaks or antibiotic resistance spikes.
Probably the most interesting was seeing how “normal” the samples looked; nothing unusual or dangerous was found in the microbial samples. Passengers on the Boston Subway can rest assured that all of the germs they run into are typical at best.
Image Source: Forever Twenty Somethings