MetaSUB paper published in Cell

Global study that includes Montevideo releases a planetary-scale DNA sequence map

Our work as members of the MetaSUB International Consortium just reported the largest-ever global metagenomic study of urban microbiomes. This represents a comprehensive analysis and annotation for all the microbial species identified—including thousands of viruses and bacteria not found in reference databases. This allows to predict with about 90% accuracy the city of origin of a certain sample taken, for example, from the shoe of a traveler. The findings are based on 4,728 samples from cities on six continents taken over the course of three years, characterize regional antimicrobial resistance markers, and represent the first systematic worldwide catalog of the urban microbial ecosystem. In addition to distinct microbial signatures in various cities, the analysis revealed a core set of 31 species that were found in 97% of samples across the sampled urban areas. The study identified 4,246 known species of urban microorganisms, but also found that any subsequent sampling will still likely continue to find species that have never been seen before, which highlights the raw potential for discoveries related to microbial diversity and biological functions awaiting in urban environments.


There are millions of species on Earth, but we have a complete, solid genome reference for only 100,000 to 200,000 at this point. For that reason, the discovery of new species can help with the building of microbial family trees to see how different species are related to one another. The findings also have many potential practical applications, for example indicating the presence of new antibiotics and small molecules annotated from biosynthetic gene clusters (BGCs) that have promise for drug development. People often think a rainforest is a bounty of biodiversity and new molecules for therapies, but the same is true of a subway railing, bench or sewer.


The paper entitled “A global metagenomic map of urban microbiomes and antimicrobial resistance was published in Cell past May 26, 2021.