How Designers and Scientists Are Using Bees to Map NYC’s Microbes

Liz Stinson in Wired:

ScreenHunter_2169 Aug. 26 20.05You share more than a zip code with your neighbors. You also share bugs—microscopic organisms (think bacteria, fungi, and viruses). These microbial communities are called microbiomes, and they seem to have an impact on everything from digestion to allergies. They also happen to be everywhere—from your intestines to your phone’s screen to the sidewalk beneath your feet.

But those bugs are tough to understand, because you can’t see them. “There’s like this whole other invisible planet,” says Kevin Slavin, head of the Playful Systems group at the MIT Media Lab. In a new project called Holobiont Urbanism, Slavin’s team is working to sample, sequence, and visualize the microbial makeup of New York City. Some of the team members are designers, engineers, and biologists.

Some of them are bees.

Bees typically forage no more than a mile and a half from their hives, but in their expeditions they come into contact with the microbes in their range, and those microbes stick. Slavin’s group worked with apiarists to build beehives with removable trays at the bottom that collect detritus from the bees, like a crumb-catcher in a toaster.

More here.