Half the DNA on the NYC Subway Matches No Known Organism
Indeed. But Don’t Panic!
We have (probably) not been invaded by aliens. This is merely a reminder that science still (and always will) have its limits. It’s not that half the DNA on the NYC Subway belongs to stuff from other planets, it’s just that we can’t match it against our genetic libraries right now because we simply don’t have enough books in them yet (he said, completely mangling the analogy).
As we continue to improve our knowledge of which bits of DNA come from which organisms (and we’re really just talking about bacteria here, because we’re kinda up to date with mammals and the like), so the next time we see that chunk of DNA on a subway (or anywhere else), we can attribute it to a given organism, and reduce that 50% bit by bit until there’s very little that’s unknown about the DNA on the NYC Subway.
In the meantime, there’s a really nice interactive map here, allowing you to look at which bacteria were found at which stations, or – better still – to search by types of bacteria to see what they are associated with (from “heart valve infections” to “mozzarella cheese”) (no anthrax, though) and see whereabouts on the network they were found.
Let’s just say that I’m going to be avoiding 168th Street and East 149th Street for some time. Possibly forever.
I mean… Dysentery! Really?!?