Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Drug-resistant bacteria lurk in subway stations, high school students discover

06.02.2015

Swabbing in 5 stations turns up bugs that can thwart 2 common antibiotics

Forget the five-million plus commuters and untold number of rats - many of the living things crowded into the New York City subway system are too small to see. An interest in the more menacing among these microbes led high school student Anya Dunaif, a participant in Rockefeller's Summer Science Research Program, to spend her vacation swabbing benches and turn styles beneath the city. Among her findings: bacteria impervious to two major antibiotics.


As part of Pathomap, a project sampling environmental DNA in New York City, students in Rockefeller University's Science Outreach Program swabbed surfaces in the city's subway system.

Credit: Rockefeller University's Science Outreach Program

The samples she collected and cultured in five stations are a component of a city-scale environmental DNA sampling effort led by Chris Mason, an assistant professor at Weill Cornell Medical College with support from Rockefeller's Science Outreach program, as well as from numerous local, national and international collaborators. This project, called Pathomap, seeks to profile the city's microbial community, or microbiome, while also capturing DNA from other organisms, all of which could potentially be used to assess biological threats, including those to human health. The project's initial results are described in a paper published Wednesday (February 4) in Cell Systems.

With help from fellow high school student researcher Nell Kirchberger, Dunaif collected the bacteria on swabs and tested to see if they would grow in Petri dishes containing three commonly used antibiotics. Bacteria from five of the 18 swabs she tested grew in spite of the presence of either ampicillin or kanamycin, and in one case, both. None of the cultured bacteria appeared resistant to the third antibiotic, chloramphenicol.

... more about:
»DNA »antibiotic »antibiotics »bacteria »resistance

Antibiotic resistance - the ability of disease-causing bacteria to withstand compounds used to kill them off - can make a once treatable infection more serious, even life threatening. A natural consequence of evolution, and the widespread use and misuse of antibiotics, resistance is increasing worldwide.

"Although I knew resistance is considered a serious threat to modern medicine, I went into this project not certain what to expect. I wasn't even sure we would see antibiotic-resistant bacteria, let alone multi-drug resistant bacteria," says Dunaif, a senior at St. Ann's School in Brooklyn. "Now we hope to build off the work I did over the summer by searching for more types of antibiotic resistance in more stations."

Joining her on the continuing search for drug-resistant bugs are Anya Auerbach, a senior at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, and Will Lounsbery-Scaife, now a freshman at New York University. (Kirchberger has since returned to California.) Both took on their own projects over the summer, although their work was not included in the current Pathomap publication.

Now the three of them, with guidance from Jeanne Garbarino, director of Rockefeller's Science Outreach Program, are preparing a rigorous sampling protocol they plan to test at the Lexington Avenue/59th Street station, and getting ready to look for resistance against four additional antibiotics. As part of this contribution to Pathomap's ongoing work, they intend to use genetic sequencing and analysis provided by Weill Cornell Medical College to identify the resistance genes and the molecular pathways the microbes that contain them use to evade the drugs.

"There's no question, high school students can do legitimate primary research. If we are going to encourage critical thinking, which is important regardless of what you do in life, I think it is important to have them ask and attempt to answer open-ended questions," Garbarino says.

Lounsbery-Scaife spent his summer swabbing water fountains in Central Park. The sequencing results aren't complete yet, but the experience, he says, has given him a better understanding of the scientific process, not just the results.

"It has de-romanticized the whole process for me, but not in a bad way. I learned how slow and consistent you have to be throughout, writing everything down and doing everything exactly the same way. This might deter some people from wanting to do science, but for me, it just validates my interest in it," Lounsbery-Scaife says.

Auerbach, meanwhile, attempted to track microbes as they accumulated over time on Grand Central Station ticket machines. Her effort, which she says attracted a surprising lack of interest from subway riders, was unsuccessful because she couldn't get enough DNA. Nevertheless, she sees value in the disappointment.

"I was hoping to get something really cool and exciting and instead it was like, nope, we can't even sequence this. I did a lot of troubleshooting, and I am confident that if there was something there we would have gotten it," Auerbach says.

Auerbach's results are actually quite typical of research done even by professional scientists, Garbarino says. "Someone said to me when I was in grad school for every 99 failures there is one success. It's not about a grand slam every time you are up to bat, it's about strategy and working with your team to get someone to home plate. As our students learned, that may be slow and tedious at times, but it is gratifying nonetheless."

In addition to antibiotic-resistance, Pathomap's surveys also turned up fragments of DNA that correspond to well-known disease causing microbes, including plague and anthrax bacteria. However, the authors note, microbes that left behind this DNA do not appear to be causing widespread disease; instead they may simply represent normal inhabitants of urban infrastructure.

Wynne Parry | EurekAlert!

Further reports about: DNA antibiotic antibiotics bacteria resistance

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht On track to heal leukaemia
18.01.2017 | Universitätsspital Bern

nachricht Penn vet research identifies new target for taming Ebola
12.01.2017 | University of Pennsylvania

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

Im Focus: How to inflate a hardened concrete shell with a weight of 80 t

At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).

Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

Nothing will happen without batteries making it happen!

05.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

A big nano boost for solar cells

18.01.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Glass's off-kilter harmonies

18.01.2017 | Materials Sciences

Toward a 'smart' patch that automatically delivers insulin when needed

18.01.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>