Next time you take public transport it’s likely you’ll touch bacteria originating from your fellow passengers’ mouths, breath, intestines, skin and genitalia, according to a bacterial ecosystem researcher.
Andrew Gray, a bacteria researcher from Melbourne’s Monash University, is leading the Australian arm of a global bacteria mapping project, started by Cornell University in New York City.
In June, Mr Gray directed a team of volunteer researchers who collected microbe samples from seven train stations around Melbourne, including South Yarra, Southern Cross, Flinders Street, North Melbourne and Melbourne Central.
Another team took similar samples from Sydney’s Wynard, Town Hall and Circular Quay stations.
Mr Gray told The New Daily that Australia’s results would likely match a similar study conducted in New York last year. It found that 32.3 per cent of public transport microbes originated in the gut, 29 per cent from the skin, 20 per cent from the genital area, 10 per cent from breath and 6.5 per cent from the mouth.
“We can expect that the results from Australian public transport will find similar types of microbe origins, but it might differ in quantities and things like that,” he said.
“We wanted to get an idea of how bacteria travels on humans, while humans use public transport to travel.”
The Australian samples are currently frozen in local laboratories and will be sent for testing at Fudan University in Shanghai, China. The results are expected in six months.
Melbourne and Sydney were among 58 cities around the world to the tests.
Germs on trains ‘not harmful’
The team of researchers running the program at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York said there was nothing dangerous about germs on public transport.
The college’s senior study investigator, Dr Christopher E. Mason, said human health was not enhanced or harmed by bacteria from places like the intestine, mouth, genital area or skin.
“Our data show evidence that most bacteria in these densely populated, highly trafficked transit areas are neutral to human health, and much of it is commonly found on the skin or in the gastrointestinal tract,” Dr Mason said in a statement.
“These bacteria may even be helpful, since they can out-compete any dangerous bacteria.”
Monash University’s Mr Gray echoed those beliefs: “There really is nothing dangerous or dirty about these germs. People shouldn’t be worried about coming into contact with these things on public transport.”
He said researching the planet’s “bacteria ecosystem” would help understand a world that we currently know little about and help in efforts to improve antibiotics.
“We might one day get to a stage where we can tell where someone lives or works just by the bacteria we find they’re carrying.”