Tuesday Tonic: Going underground

When we lived in London, I had a real love hate relationship with the tube. I adored the retro tiles still visible in some stations, enjoyed the architecture when I had a moment to stand and stare and marvelled at the ginormous feats of engineering that were the escalators. But when it came to sitting on the seats or touching the handrails, my inner microbiologist squirmed at the thought of what lay hidden to the naked eye.

So it was with morbid fascination that I read this article in the New York Times, which reported on a study looking at the bacteria found in air samples collected from the New York subway.

Surprisingly, there was nothing extraordinary to be found. No new species of superbug waiting to be discovered by Teenage Mutant Ninga Turtles, nothing derived from ectoplasm that would necessitate a call to Ghostbusters.

The most stomach churning discovery was that a fifth of the identifiable bacterial species “probably came from human skin — our heels, heads and forearms, mostly”. Not surprising really, but enough to make you feel a touch bilious if you stop and think about it for long enough.

I wonder if the same type of results would be found if a similar study was conducted in our dear old underground?

The London underground map of the 1930s designed by Harry Beck – could easily be turned into a taxonomy diagram for all the bacterial just waiting to be discovered…

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