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A few drops are enough to retrieve detailed information on the populations of insects that live in the area where it was produced: a new analysis system that can be useful for the control of biodiversity, but also to identify possible food frauds.

Thanks to a new analysis system developed by a research group of the University of Bologna, from today just a few drops of honey are enough to understand which and how many insects live in the territory in which that honey was produced : an instrument that can turn out to be very useful both to monitor the biodiversity of ecosystems and to identify possible food frauds.


The study, recently published in Scientific Reports , focused on the analysis of environmental DNA , a genetic trace left by insects and transported in honey by the work of bees. "Environmental DNA - explains Valerio Joe Utzeri, co-author of the research - derives from some insects that feed on the sap of the plants, for example the aphids and others belonging to the order of the Rincoti ". These insects, particularly important for agricultural and forest ecosystems, produce honeydew, a sugary secretion much appreciated by bees, which is used in the honey production process.

Using next generation sequencing techniques applied to environmental DNA, the researchers were able to identify - indirectly but in a very precise way - the different species of insects present in the territory where the bees have worked : an area that can extend up to a ten kilometers radius.


"Our study - explains the researcher Anisa Ribani - has highlighted how from a few grams of honey it is possible to retrieve detailed information on insect populations present in agricultural and forest environments". A system that allows monitoring of environmental biodiversity and keeping the presence of organisms harmful to plants under control . Moreover, the control of the environmental DNA allows to authenticate the area of ​​origin of the analyzed honey, thus avoiding possible food frauds . "With this tool - confirms Giuseppina Schiavo, another researcher involved in the study - we can obtain quantitative information on insect infestations in the environment and reconstruct the genetic structure of their populations ".

In short, bees are once again precious allies for monitoring the environment : their presence is fundamental not only for the conservation of ecosystems but also for developing models for the sustainable development of agricultural and forestry resources.


The study was carried out by a research group of the Department of Agri-Food Sciences and Technologies of the University of Bologna, coordinated by Professor Luca Fontanesi . The results have been published onScientific Reports with the title " Entomological signatures in honey: an environmental DNA metabarcoding approach can disclose information on plant-sucking insects in agricultural and forest landscapes ". The authors are Valerio Joe Utzeri, Giuseppina Schiavo, Anisa Ribani, Silvia Tinarelli, Francesca Bertolini, Samuele Bovo and Luca Fontanesi. The work is part of a broader spectrum of activities of the research group in the field of genomics applied to beekeeping and to species of zootechnical interest from which GRIFFA was born , a young start up specialized in Food Genomics.

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