Banknote bacteria transmission study awarded an ‘Ig Nobel’

Three European scientists were recently awarded the 2019 Ig Nobel Prize in economics for their research on money and the transmission of bacteria.

The offbeat honour, which is designed to “first make people laugh and then make them think,” was handed out on Sept. 12 at Harvard University.

Habip Gedik, Andreas Voss and Timothy Voss tested banknotes from six different issuers to determine which notes transmit the most dangerous bacteria. The team sterilized the banknotes – from Canada, the U.S., Croatia, Romania, Morocco, India and the European Union’s euros – before infecting them with three resistant bacterial strains (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, Escherichia coli, or E. coli, and Vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus, or VRE).

After two hours, the notes were tested to see what strains survived, and in a second experiment, the infected notes were handled by people to measure transfer rates.

“All the strains survived and ended up on the hands of the tellers. The rupee and the kuna felt dirty but weren’t. Grimy looking banknotes are not always sources for infection,” the team reported, adding the Romanian leu topped the list for transfer rates.

The Canadian notes yielded MRSA and VRE after six hours of drying. For winning, the team received a $10-billion Zimbabwean banknote.

For more information about this year’s Ig Nobel Prize winners, visit improbable.com/ig-about/winners/#ig2019.

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