New study shows buses and trains are like 'germ warfare' factories

Published: 29 June 2016


It’s likely you’re catching more than you bargained for on your morning commute.

If you’re anything like a lot of public transport-users, you probably avoid touching handrails on buses and trains at all costs.

And for good reason.

Public transport is a haven for germs, but the question remains as to what type of bacteria you are picking up.

An experiment, led by American researchers, aims to understand what types of bacteria live and move around on public transport and to establish if there are any common patterns between cities.

And while we are still waiting on a clear answer, a research team from Monash University in Melbourne likened the project to each city taking a ‘selfie’ of its bacterial ecosystem.

In a bid to bring Melbourne’s germ-ridden ‘selfie’ to life, the group of scientists and volunteers sampled seven train stations including South Yarra, Flinders Street, Southern Cross, Melbourne Central and North Melbourne.

Meanwhile in Sydney, samples were also collected from Circular Quay, Central, Wynyard and Town Hall stations.

Swabs were taken from benches, vending machines, handrails and escalators.

The Melbourne samples are currently being stored in a freezer at a Brunswick Community science laboratory and will be sent to a University in Shanghai for testing.

Results are expected to be posted to the MetaSUB website within six months.

Melbourne and Sydney are among 58 cities to participate in the study, led by American researchers at New York's Cornell University.

Samples taken from New York’s subway found that 32 percent of the bacteria samples were associated with the gastrointestinal tract, 29 percent were skin and another 20 percent associated with the genital area.

Likely the result of people not washing their hands properly after going to the bathroom.

Passing wind is also partly to blame.

However, don’t fret…because a lot of the bacteria detected isn’t harmless.

Forty-eight percent of the genetic data collected in New York didn’t match any known organism.