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The Bacteria on NYC Subway Poles Is Surprisingly Pretty

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You know that NYC subway poles are teeming with all sorts of disgusting bacteria and micro-organisms, but one photographer has captured those cultures in photos—and the results are simultaneously fascinating and horrifying.

Brooklyn photographer Craig Ward was inspired to photograph the bacteria that permeates the NYC subway after seeing another photog's similar photo of cultures from her son's hand. "It reminded me of that urban myth: When you hold on to the subway railings, you shake hands with 100 people all at once," Ward told New York magazine, which published some of his images. He traversed the subway's 22 lines with sterile equipment, swabbing rails and seats, and then cultivated the bacteria for each line in a petri dish in his studio over the summer. The resulting images, which are also color-coordinated to their respective lines, are oddly beautiful—if you don't think too hard about the shit (literally) that is lying in wait on every subway car. Here are some of Ward's findings:

↑ On the L train, you'll find E. coli (which is found in—ugh—poop), Proteus mirabilis, Micrococcus luteus, Bacillus subtilis, Serratia marcescens. These can cause myriad nasty illnesses, and as New York notes, erratia marcescens is often linked to "hospital-acquired infections." But on the plus side, bacillus subtilis isn't harmful, and has been used as an alternative to antibiotics. So…cool?

↑ The Times Square Shuttle, meanwhile, is teeming with E. coli, salmonella, and Staphylococcus aureus. Individually, those bacteria can cause digestive problems, sinus issues, infections, and food poisoning—when combined…well, we really don't want to know what would happen.

The takeaway? For the love of God, wash your hands when you get off the subway.
· What Lives on the Subway Pole? [NYMag]
· Subvisual Subway [Official]