Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Grossest Job in Genetics

The city of New York has a microbiome of its own, and Dr. Jane M. Carlton wants to sequence it. With a team of graduate students, Dr. Carlton, a geneticist, is sampling the sewage from each NYC neighborhood to map the city’s microbial diversity – the viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens hiding in residential and commercial sewage, animal waste, and groundwater run-off. By isolating these pathogens and sequencing their genomes, Dr. Carlton’s team hopes to better prevent and prepare for outbreaks, as well as to understand current infectious disease trends and the evolution of circulating pathogens. Of particular interest is tracking antibiotic-resistant bacteria – for example, MRSA and Clostridium difficile – in the sewage system. Dr. Eric Alm is developing a tool to make this sequencing dream a reality. In the works is a smart sewage device that can analyze the content of public refuse and sewage, and then relay this data back to relevant research teams and public officials. If they can bring this program to fruition, it could have vast implications in terms of the health and well being of our urban centers. It’s a lofty goal, but luckily there are many graduate students eager to dig deep into our sewage.

- Emma Rastatter

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