Paper Money Is Teeming With Germs: Study

Monday, 21 Apr 2014 05:00 PM

By Nick Tate

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Maybe we need to rethink the whole concept of money laundering? New research has found a typical dollar bill is teeming with up to 3,000 different types of bacteria — many times more than past studies have suggested.

The findings, by New York University researchers, stem from the first comprehensive study of DNA found on paper money. The so-called NYU Dirty Money Project found that currency is a medium of exchange for hundreds of different kinds of bacteria as bank notes pass from hand to hand, the Wall Street Journal reports.

By analyzing genetic material on $1 bills, the NYU researchers identified 3,000 types of bacteria, but noted they could identify only about 20 percent of the non-human DNA they found because so many microorganisms haven't yet been cataloged in genetic data banks.

The most commonly found microbe: The bacteria that cause acne. Others were linked to gastric ulcers, pneumonia, food poisoning, and staph infections, the scientists said. Some even carried genes responsible for antibiotic resistance.

"It was quite amazing to us," said Jane Carlton, director of genome sequencing at NYU's Center for Genomics and Systems Biology where the university-funded work was performed. "We actually found that microbes grow on money."

The unpublished research offers a glimpse into the international problem of dirty money. A U.S. $1 bill, printed on a cotton-linen blend, lasts about 21 months — a long time for microbes to gather and be passed around, health experts noted.
 
The U.S. Federal Reserve System is spending $826.7 million on new money this year to make 7.8 billion bank notes with a total face value of $297.1 billion, the Journal reported.

To make cash more durable, countries from Canada to the Kingdom of Bhutan are printing bank notes on sheets of flexible plastic polymer film, with implications for the microbiology of money.

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