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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2013 Jun;79(11):3485-93. doi: 10.1128/AEM.00331-13. Epub 2013 Mar 29.

Culture-independent analysis of aerosol microbiology in a metropolitan subway system.

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Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, USA.


The goal of this study was to determine the composition and diversity of microorganisms associated with bioaerosols in a heavily trafficked metropolitan subway environment. We collected bioaerosols by fluid impingement on several New York City subway platforms and associated sites in three sampling sessions over a 1.5-year period. The types and quantities of aerosolized microorganisms were determined by culture-independent phylogenetic analysis of small-subunit rRNA gene sequences by using both Sanger (universal) and pyrosequencing (bacterial) technologies. Overall, the subway bacterial composition was relatively simple; only 26 taxonomic families made up ~75% of the sequences determined. The microbiology was more or less similar throughout the system and with time and was most similar to outdoor air, consistent with highly efficient air mixing in the system. Identifiable bacterial sequences indicated that the subway aerosol assemblage was composed of a mixture of genera and species characteristic of soil, environmental water, and human skin commensal bacteria. Eukaryotic diversity was mainly fungal, dominated by organisms of types associated with wood rot. Human skin bacterial species (at 99% rRNA sequence identity) included the Staphylococcus spp. Staphylococcus epidermidis (the most abundant and prevalent commensal of the human integument), S. hominis, S. cohnii, S. caprae, and S. haemolyticus, all well-documented human commensal bacteria. We encountered no organisms of public health concern. This study is the most extensive culture-independent survey of subway microbiota so far and puts in place pre-event information required for any bioterrorism surveillance activities or monitoring of the microbiological impact of recent subway flooding events.

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