Science

How Dirty Are ATM Keypads?

By Christie Abagon , Nov 20, 2016 09:44 PM EST

Don't panic just yet.  In a fascinating study published in the American Society for Microbiology, researchers took swabs of 66 keypads in eight New York City neighborhoods in June and July 2014 and used DNA sequencing to try to determine what was in the samples.  Researchers say that the results represent the "average" community of microbes pooled from the hundreds of people who likely touch each machine every day.

Jane Carlton, director of the Center for Genomics and Systems Biology at NYU and the senior author of the new study, said: "Our results suggest that ATM keypads integrate microbes from different sources, including the human microbiome, foods, and potentially novel environmental organisms adapted to air or surfaces."

 ATM Keypads May Tell What You Had For Lunch

Unsurprisingly, the most abundant microbe that researchers found on ATM keypads are bacteria that live on human skin.  But what was interesting is that they also found traces of food.  "The results are of particular relevance with respect to humans, since the surfaces studied are touched by people and could potentially mediate interpersonal transfer of microbes or microbial DNA," Carlton said.

Researchers Found Fungus Associated With Spoilage of High-Sugar Foods

Traces of food found on ATM keyboards vary per neighborhood.  In midtown Manhattan, they found mold that's connected with baked goods- called X. Bisporus, which is a fungus that is "associated with spoilage of high-sugar foods such as cakes and confectionaries," according to the study. 

"It seems plausible that this fungus had been transferred from people who had recently handled baked goods, particularly in a commuter-heavy area such as midtown Manhattan, where there are many nearby convenience stores and cafés selling this type of food product to business workers," researchers said.

This research is just a part of a larger study to characterize the urban microbiome of New York City.  Microbes found on ATM surfaces can be used in the analysis of microbe characteristics that come from the urban environment.

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