The DNA of honey

A group of researchers from the University of Bologna managed to analyze the DNA of honey discovering a new world!

To create honey, bees collect nectar or honeydew from flowers and plants around the hive up to ten kilometres away. They collect nectar or honeydew from flowers and plants, but they also capture traces of many other organisms that inhabit that territory. Therefore, the DNA contained in honey contains information about the environment, bees and other organisms, which is why it is considered an “environmental DNA”. However, deciphering this kind of information is complex, in particular isolating the individual traces present and identifying the organisms to which they refer. The researchers used an innovative method, based on next generation sequencing technologies that allow millions of DNA fragments to be sequenced in parallel.

The result? In the DNA, as expected, traces were found from flower pollen, from bees that collected nectar and from insects that produce honeydew, an essential ingredient in the production of honey. But there are also traces of varroa, the main parasite that attacks bees, fungi, bacteria and viruses that can cause diseases of plants or bees.

Knowing how to decipher DNA is really important because it allows, first of all, to define the botanical origin of honey and to use its geographical origin, so as to avoid possible fraud.It is also possible to check the state of health of bees by verifying the presence of traces belonging to parasites and pathogens of bees, but also the state of health of plants by monitoring the presence of potentially harmful microorganisms.

Finally, honey is also a food with many beneficial properties and we can find confirmation in its DNA. In fact, many healing properties of honey are created thanks to the traces of some microorganisms. The group of researchers found, for example, traces of some yeasts that are considered natural producers of substances with an antibiotic effect.