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Using Bees to Gain Insights into Urban Microbiomes

Debris picked up by urban honeybees as they forage can provide a snapshot of the metagenomes of the cities in which they live, according to a study appearing this week in Environmental Microbiome. It is increasingly evident that the microbiome is linked to different aspects of human health, but metagenomic analyses within urban environments is limited by labor-intensive sample collection. A team led by New York University researchers instead tested whether bees could aid in gathering samples of urban microbiota, examining various hive materials — honey, debris, hive swabs, and bee bodies — for clues about the metagenomic landscape around the hives. Through experiments in New York, Sydney, Melbourne, Venice, and Tokyo, they show that hive debris can reveal information about the range of microbial species surrounding beehives, including microbes associated with plants, mammals, and aquatic environments. In addition to providing insights into hive health, the data could also be used for human pathogen surveillance, the study's authors say.