In November, 2012, Curtis Huttenhower began work (with funding from the Sloan Foundation) to examine the transmission of human-associated microbes by public transportation surfaces.
An article on “Big Data” in the current issue of Harvard Magazine includes a description of Huttenhower’s work in the lead article “Why “Big Data” Is a Big Deal.”
After very briefly describing Huttenhower’s Sloan Foundation funded work, it quotes him saying: “Just think about the number of things that have changed in the past 50 years that affect microbes,” Commercial antibiotics didn’t exist until about 50 years ago; our locations have changed; and over a longer period, we have gone from 75 percent of the population working in agriculture to 2 percent; our exposure to animals has changed; our exposure to the environment; our use of agricultural antibiotics has changed; what we eat has changed; the availability of drugs has changed. There are so many things that are different over that timescale that would specifically affect microbes. That is why there is some weight given to the microbiome link to the hygiene hypothesis.”
The Harvard Magazine article goes on to discuss “Discerning Patterns in Complexity. Making sense of the relationships between distinct kinds of information is another challenge facing researchers. What insights can be gleaned from connecting gene sequences, health records, and environmental influences? And how can humans understand the results?”