No plague in the NY subway after all (new study)

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Travellers on the New York and Boston subway systems might allow themselves a sigh of relief – Yersinia pestis (the causative agent of plague) and Bacillus anthracis (the causative agent of anthrax) might not be living in the subway systems after all. This is the finding of a new investigation published in the journal mSystems™, May/June 2016; volume 1, issue 3. The paper refutes the findings of a previous study (‘Geospatial Resolution of Human and Bacterial Diversity with City-Scale Metagenomics’ in: CellSystems, Volume 1, Issue 1, p72–87, 29 July 2015.) Here’s a commentary :

“[…] in a recent study of the New York subway, due to incorrect taxonomic classifications, the authors reported observing Yersinia pestis (the causative agent of plague) and Bacillus anthracis (the causative agent of anthrax) as part of the ‘normal subway microbiome.’ These observations led to high-visibility news reports. But improved reanalysis of the same data by Hsu et al. demonstrated that these results were illusory. Hsu et al. found that these pathogens were not part of the normal subway microbiome, either in New York or in an independent sample set from the Boston subway.” [our hyperlink]

And here’s the new paper itself : ‘Urban Transit System Microbial Communities Differ by Surface Type and Interaction with Humans and the Environment’

Note: Before the appearance of this new study, the authors of the original paper had taken steps to publish a follow-up correction and clarification letter – which said “[…] there is no strong evidence to suggest these organisms are in fact present […]” More here at Retraction Watch.

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