SCIENCE
11/30/2015 03:03 pm ET

This Is What's Living In New York City's Subways

Here's a beautiful guide to the bacteria living beneath the city.

A stunning new portrait series reveals an up-close glimpse of the germs growing in New York City's subway cars.

Brooklyn-based artist Craig Ward rode the city's 22 subway lines this past summer and used sterilized sponges to collect bacterial samples from hand rails, seats and other surfaces. He pressed the bacteria into petri dishes coated with agar, incubated them and then photographed them at various stages of development.

Ward collects bacterial samples from handrails in a New York City subway train.
Craig Ward
Ward collects bacterial samples from handrails in a New York City subway train.

Ward identified some harmless bacteria that are typically found in human saliva, sweat and skin. For instance, about 75 percent of what he imaged was bacteria native to a human hand, he said. But he also found some more disturbing bacterial species, such as E. coli and a few strains of staphylococcus, New York magazine reported.

A study published in the journal Cell Systems earlier this year showed that more than 500 species of bacteria, including some from foods and some known to cause illness, can be found in the Big Apple's subways.

"I just think they make for an excellent visual analogy for the diversity of the city at large," Ward told HuffPost.

"And I hope, after the initial wince, that people will find a little beauty in there," he said. "It’s only natural, though, that people are taking more away from the contents of the dishes as opposed to the images, but I think as a body of work they make for an interesting and memorable series of photographs."

Scroll down to see some of the bacteria featured in Ward's series, "Subvisual Subway."

  • An up-close look at some of the bacterial species found in New York City's subway trains.
    Craig Ward
    An up-close look at some of the bacterial species found in New York City's subway trains.
  • Microbial residents of the G train, containing E. coli, salmonella, Micrococcus luteus and Bacillus subtilis.
    Craig Ward
    Microbial residents of the G train, containing E. coli, salmonella, Micrococcus luteus and Bacillus subtilis.
  • Microbial residents of the D train, containing E. Coli, Staphylococcus aureus and mold.
    Craig Ward
    Microbial residents of the D train, containing E. Coli, Staphylococcus aureus and mold.
  • Microbrial residents of the 7 train, containing Staphylococcus aureus and Micrococcus luteus.
    Craig Ward
    Microbrial residents of the 7 train, containing Staphylococcus aureus and Micrococcus luteus.
  • Microbial residents of the Z train, containing Proteus vulgaris, commonly found in fecal matter.
    Craig Ward
    Microbial residents of the Z train, containing Proteus vulgaris, commonly found in fecal matter.
  • Microbial residents of the L train, containing E. coli, Proteus mirabilis, Micrococcus luteus, Bacillus subtilis and Ser
    Craig Ward
    Microbial residents of the L train, containing E. coli, Proteus mirabilis, Micrococcus luteus, Bacillus subtilis and Serratia marcescens.
  • Microbial residents of the S train, containing E. coli, salmonella and Staphylococcus aureus.
    Craig Ward
    Microbial residents of the S train, containing E. coli, salmonella and Staphylococcus aureus.
  • Microbial residents of the 4, 5, 6 and 6 express trains, some containing Streptococcus agalactiae.
    Craig Ward
    Microbial residents of the 4, 5, 6 and 6 express trains, some containing Streptococcus agalactiae.
  • Microbrial residents of G, L, S and 7 trains.
    Craig Ward
    Microbrial residents of G, L, S and 7 trains.
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