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Avoiding Pandemic Fears in the Subway and Conquering the Platypus.


Metagenomics is increasingly used not just to show patterns of microbial diversity but also as a culture-independent method to detect individual organisms of intense clinical, epidemiological, conservation, forensic, or regulatory interest. A widely reported metagenomic study of the New York subway suggested that the pathogens Yersinia pestis and Bacillus anthracis were part of the "normal subway microbiome." In their article in mSystems, Hsu and collaborators (mSystems 1(3):e00018-16, 2016, showed that microbial communities on transit surfaces in the Boston subway system are maintained from a metapopulation of human skin commensals and environmental generalists and that reanalysis of the New York subway data with appropriate methods did not detect the pathogens. We note that commonly used software pipelines can produce results that lack prima facie validity (e.g., reporting widespread distribution of notorious endemic species such as the platypus or the presence of pathogens) but that appropriate use of inclusion and exclusion sets can avoid this issue.

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