Sampling the world's microbiome

22 June 2016

On 21 June over 400 people took part in a synchronised event to collect roughly 12,000 samples of DNA, RNA and microbes from public transportation and spaces in 54 cities worldwide.

The event is part of an ambitious global project to understand the microbiome of cities. Dr Christopher Mason, of Weill Cornell medicine says that the project aims to “reveal how invisible dynamics at work in cities affect – and can be used to improve – their sustainability and safety", by building genetic and epigenetic maps of the microbiome of cities as diverse as New York, Moscow and Shanghai. 

The project officially started at midday, New Zealand time, in Auckland, before moving on to Melbourne in Australia, then cities in Asia, Africa and Europe. The collection protocol at each location will be the same, ensuring consistent data, despite the variety of cities involved.

The collected data will then be used by the MetaSUB consortium, a grant funded international and interdisciplinary team established to create a worldwide DNA map of the microbiomes found within the world’s mass transit systems. It is hoped the information will help scientists and city planners to tackle the spread of antimicrobial resistance.

Dr Mason oversaw a similar project for New York City’s subway in 2015. He believes that the global project “is so exciting because there is this entire invisible world around us that we can now start to bring into focus" and the data, from 54 cities in 32 countries on six continents will be invaluable “for public health, disease surveillance and the planning of smarter cities in the future”.

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