Advertisement

High school scientists find drug-resistant bacteria in NYC subway

"There’s no question, high school students can do legitimate primary research," said Jeanne Garbarino, director of Rockefeller University's Science Outreach Program.

By
Brooks Hays
Microbial sample collected from subway car in New York. Photo by Rockefeller’s Science Outreach.
Microbial sample collected from subway car in New York. Photo by Rockefeller’s Science Outreach.

NEW YORK, Feb. 6 (UPI) -- While her peers where sitting lazily at the beach skimming the SparkNotes editions of their summer reading assignments, high schooler Anya Dunaif was swabbing subway station benches and railcar poles -- not just for fun, but for science.

After collecting a variety of cultures from five different subway stations in New York City, Dunaif -- under the supervision of Chris Mason, an assistant professor at Weill Cornell Medical College -- returned to the lab and separated samples into separate petri dishes containing three common antibiotics. Dunaif's work was assisted by fellow high school student Nell Kirchberger.

Advertisement

Of the 18 bacteria samples, five continued to grow unfettered. These five samples proved resistant to ampicillin or kanamycin, and in one instance shrugged off the presence of the two drugs in combination. None of the bacteria, however, proved resistant chloramphenicol.

"Although I knew resistance is considered a serious threat to modern medicine, I went into this project not certain what to expect," Dunaif, a senior at Brooklyn's St. Ann's School, explained in a press release. "I wasn't even sure we would see antibiotic-resistant bacteria, let alone multi-drug resistant bacteria."

Advertisement

"Now we hope to build off the work I did over the summer by searching for more types of antibiotic resistance in more stations," she said.

Dunaif's work is part of a larger scientific effort to map the microbiome of New York City, as well as search for potential hazardous pathogens. The project, dubbed PathoMap, is organized by Jeanne Garbarino, director of Rockefeller University's Science Outreach Program. A number of other high schoolers are currently swabbing other parts of the city -- water fountains, buses and more.

"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 said.

The work of Dunaif and her peers was recently published in the journal Cell Systems.

Latest Headlines