New York City Has Genetically Distinct ‘Uptown’ and ‘Downtown’ Rats
A graduate student sequenced rats all over Manhattan, and discovered how the city affects their genetic diversity.
New York City is a place where rats climb out of toilets, bite babies in their cribs, crawl on sleeping commuters, take over a Taco Bell restaurant, and drag an entire slice of pizza down the subway stairs. So as Matthew Combs puts it, “Rats in New York, where is there a better place to study them?”
Combs is a graduate student at Fordham University and, like many young people, he came to New York to follow his dreams. His dreams just happened to be studying urban rats. For the past two years, Combs and his colleagues have been trapping and sequencing the DNA of brown rats in Manhattan, producing the most comprehensive genetic portrait yet of the city’s most dominant rodent population.
As a whole, Manhattan’s rats are genetically most similar to those from Western Europe, especially Great Britain and France. They most likely came on ships in the mid-18th century, when New York was still a British colony. Combs was surprised to find Manhattan’s rats so homogenous in origin. New York has been the center of so much trade and immigration, yet the descendants of these Western European rats have held on.
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MY TOP 5 FAVORITE BOOKS ABOUT NY HARBOR
1. Field Guide to the Neighborhood Birds of New York City by Leslie Day
2.Heartbeats in the Muck by John Waldman
3. The Fisheries of Raritan Bay by Clyde L. MacKenzie Jr.
4. Waterfront: A Walk Around Manhattan by Phillip Lopate
5. The Bottom of the Harbor by Joseph Mitchell