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Honeybees help gather data about a city's health

Analyzing honeybees could provide key insight into a city's microbiome as well as the health of its people, according to a study published in the journal Environmental Microbiome. It explains that "honeybees may be effective collaborators in gathering samples of urban microbiota," due to their foraging habits.

"Honeybees will gather a vast number of microbes day to day, far beyond things they are seeking out," said Kevin Slavin, who worked on the report. "They've been optimized by evolution to do everything that the swabs do." The research team collected samples from hives and hove debris in New York City, Melbourne, Venice, and Tokyo. They found that each city had its own "unique genetic signature," per The Independent. "It didn't feel like a disjointed metric from all of the other things that we know about these cities," said Elizabeth Hénaff, lead author of the report. "It actually kind of felt like a puzzle piece that we didn't even know existed."

A microbiome is "the unseen communities of microbes, fungi, viruses, and bacteria that live inside and around us," as defined by Bloomberg. Research has shown that exposure to a diverse microbiome generally leads to better health outcomes. "For those of us who live in cities – which is more than half of the global population at this point – it is important to be able to characterize the microbiomes of the cities that we live in, and work in, and sleep in," commented Hénaff.

This analysis could be used in the future to quantify differences in health among various groups as a result of environmental inequality. "We tie that, currently, to things like pollution or even shade, [but] the idea is in part just to collect as much data as we can ... to better understand what produces healthier neighborhoods, and can it be measured," explained Slavin.