Are microorganisms really everywhere? They are certainly very prominent in NYC's subway system, and in every other subway system in the world.
How do we know that? Because last year, researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College sampled DNA in New York City’s 466 open subway stations. They found genetic material from 15,152 different species, most of them harmless or unidentified. Almost half the DNA belonged to bacteria and no two subway stations were exactly the same and the research continues.
You can explore some of the species of bacteria that you touch and carry in your everyday rides by clicking on this map.
Bacteria as art
The idea of bacteria living among us has also attracted artists such as typographer and illustrator Craig Ward. Intrigued about the microbes lurking in the subway system, he decided to sample the bacteria on subway lines around New York City. The results were striking and unconventional “portraits” of NYC commuters. Don't miss his beautiful video.
By now, we know very well that bacteria live with us, and within us. Each of us contains 40 trillion microbes! And that is a good thing. Microorganisms provide us with minerals and vitamins, help us make cheese, yogurt, beer, wine, bread, bacon and beef, and also enable us to digest the food we eat. Microbes can even affect our mood and take charge of our immune system, protecting us from disease. Unfortunately, they can also make us ill, and even kill us.
So what did Kids Talk Science do about this? After learning about the microorganisms surrounding us, the kids, equipped with swabs and agar-filled Petri dishes, became microbe detectives. First, they sampled various surfaces around the house and garden.
Then, just as microbiologists do, they transferred the bacteria to the agar inside the Petri dishes. They did this by lightly drawing a squiggle with the swabs on the hardened agar.
The agar provides nutrients for bacteria to grow. Hopefully, the microbes will grow and form colonies large enough for us to see with our naked eye and, in more detail, with our microscopes.
The kids also made handprints to see what particular microbes were living on their hands.
We'll see what monsters we'll find next time growing on our dishes!