Dirty Money: A Microbial Jungle Thrives In Your Wallet
Story by Michaeleen Doucleff/NPR
You may have heard that dollar bills harbor trace amounts of drugs.
But those greenbacks in your wallet are hiding far more than cocaine and the flu. They’re teeming with life.
Each dollar bill carries about 3,000 types of bacteria on its surface, scientists have found. Most are harmless. But cash also has DNA from drug-resistant microbes. And your wad of dough may even have a smudge of anthrax and diphtheria.
In other words, your wallet is a portable petri dish.
Made from plastic, Canadian $100 bills are resistant to liquids and tearing. But are they better than cotton-based bills at keeping dangerous bacteria at bay?i
And currency may be one way antibiotic-resistant genes move around cities, says biologist Jane Carlton, who’s leading the Dirty Money Project at the New York University.
The project offers an in-depth look at the living organisms shacking up on our cash. One goal of the work is to provide information that could help health workers catch disease outbreaks in New York City before they spread very far.
"We’re not trying to be fear mongers, or suggest that everyone goes out and microwave their money," Carlton tells Shots. "But I must admit that some of the $1 bills in New York City are really nasty."
So far, Carlton and her colleagues have sequenced all the DNA found on about 80 dollar bills from a Manhattan bank. Their findings aren’t published yet. But she gave Shots a sneak peak of what they’ve found so far.
The most common microbes on the bills, by far, are ones that cause acne. The runners-up were a bunch of skin bacteria that aren’t pathogenic: They simply like to hang out on people’s bodies. Some of these critters may even protect the skin from harmful microbes, Carlton says.
Other money dwellers included mouth microbes — because people lick their fingers when they count bills, Carlton says — and bacteria that thrive in the vagina. “People probably aren’t washing their hands after the bathroom,” she says.
Awesome pictures! And remember, just because money has bacteria on it, doesn’t mean it will make you sick.