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Busy Bees Out Collecting Microbes

MIT researchers are harnessing bees — along with other tools — to visualize the microbiome of New York and other cities, Wired reports.

Bees, it adds, are mostly homebodies, staying within about a mile and a half of their hives. When they venture out, they pick up the area's microbes and bring them back home. The MIT Media Lab's Kevin Slavin and his colleagues have worked with beekeepers to design hives with removable floors so they can collect what the bees themselves have acquired.

DNA from these bee-captured samples is then sequenced to uncover what microbes are in the area, Wired says. Both New York and Sydney are home to members of the pollution-associated Polaromonas, Sphingopyxis, and Alicycliphilus genera, while Venice has Meyerozyma guilliermondii and Penicillium chrysogenum, which Wired says are linked to wood rut. With this, they've then developed maps.

Argonne National Laboratory's Jack Gilbert tells Wired that this might not give a good glimpse into the urban microbiome, but is "using technology to create artistically valuable work."