Probably the best reason to wash your hands regularly is that the world is covered in feces. New York City is particularly gross, and some of the most shared surfaces of this spend-friendly city are automated teller machines. Quite appropriately, the good scientists at New York University tested them for microbes.
The study, published in the journal mSphere, included a hundredsome samples from eight neighborhoods across Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, ranging from midtown to Flushing to Inwood to Ozone Park.
“ATM surfaces, potentially retaining microbial signatures of human inhabitants … are interesting from both a biodiversity perspective and a public health perspective,” lead author NYU project scientist Holly M. Bik and her colleagues write. , They focused on neighborhoods with distinct population demographics, swabbing around for patterns. The goal was to add to the body of work on the “urban microbiome.”
It’s a big project in New York, given that, as the authors report, the urban surfaces of Manhattan have a greater surface area than the geographic breadth of the island itself.
The authors report that the most striking biomarkers regarded food species on ATM keypads were those that aligned with eating habits of certain neighborhoods, like bony fish and mollusks in Flushing and Manhattan’s Chinatown and domestic chicken in Central Harlem.
But, as John Metcalfe reports at CityLab, other findings were less savory, like protists associated with your intestinal tract, a bug related to the sexually transmitted infcection trichomoniasis, and Toxoplasma, which causes toxoplasmosis, an infectious disease that doesn’t usually show symptoms but feels like a flu if you have a weakened immune system or are a baby. “Don’t panic just yet,” Metcalfe cautions. “The research didn’t determine how many of these microbes were still active when collected, and it’s possible that many were in such small amounts that they wouldn’t be harmful.” Meanwhile, you might want to get some hand sanitizer.