Your City Has Its Own Microbial ‘Signature’

By Robert Preidt
HealthDay reporter

THURSDAY, May 27, 2021 (HealthDay News) – Every city has its own unique mix of telltale microbes, new research shows.

“If you gave me your shoe, I could tell you with about 90% accuracy which city in the world you are from,” said Christopher Mason, lead author of the study, director of the WorldQuant Initiative for Quantitative Prediction in New York.

His team analyzed microbes collected from the air and surfaces of transit systems and hospitals in 60 cities on six continents.

“Every city has its own ‘molecular echo’ of the microbes that define it,” said Mason, who is also a professor at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City.

The more than 4,700 samples analyzed in the study were collected over three years as part of the world’s first systematic catalog of urban microbial ecosystems.

In addition to finding that cities have distinct microbial signatures, the researchers identified a core set of 31 species that were found in most (97%) of the samples from the cities studied.


In all, more than 4,200 species of microorganisms have been identified, but researchers expect additional samples to find species that have never been seen before. Their results were published on May 26 in the journal Cell.

Mason began collecting and analyzing microbial samples on the New York City subway in 2013.

After publishing his first findings, researchers around the world contacted him, seeking to do similar studies in their own cities.

In response, Mason developed a protocol that other scientists could use to take samples.

In 2015, he created an international consortium that has since expanded to collect samples from air, water and wastewater in addition to hard surfaces.

“People often think of a rainforest to be an abundance of biodiversity and new molecules for therapies, but the same is true for a subway ramp or bench,” Mason said in a press release.

More information

The American Museum of Natural History has more on microbes.

SOURCE: Cell, press release, May 26, 2021

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