Biology

Bedbug genome decoded in hopes of destroying the tiny blood suckers

Sequencing the genome of the common bedbug (Cimex lectularius​) will help find new ways to eradicate the pests
Sequencing the genome of the common bedbug (Cimex lectularius​) will help find new ways to eradicate the pests
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Male and female adult bedbugs in comparison to apple seeds (Credit: AMNH/L. Sorkin)
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Male and female adult bedbugs in comparison to apple seeds (Credit: AMNH/L. Sorkin)
Sequencing the genome of the common bedbug (Cimex lectularius​) will help find new ways to eradicate the pests
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Sequencing the genome of the common bedbug (Cimex lectularius​) will help find new ways to eradicate the pests

There was a time when parents putting children to bed would tell them to "sleep tight and don't let the bedbugs bite." While that little rhyme was simply a cute phrase to kids growing up in the middle of the last century, these days it could well be taken as a serious warning. According to one 2011 survey, one in five Americans has either had a bedbug infestation in their home or knows someone who's come in contact with the critters in a hotel room or their homes, and every continent except Antarctica has experienced a resurgence during the past two decades. Combine that with the fact that bedbugs are becoming more and more resistant to insecticides meant to destroy them, and you can see how serious the issue is becoming.

Fortunately scientists have just taken a key step in stopping the bitty blood suckers in their tracks – they've decoded the entire bedbug genome.

Researchers at the American Museum of Natural History and Weill Cornell Medicine took DNA and RNA from both living and preserved bedbugs. They retrieved samples from a bedbug population first collected in 1973 (and since maintained by the museum), as well as from more than 1,400 locations in New York City, including every subway station.

What they found was that gene expression changes after a bedbug has its first blood meal. Some of the genetic mutations the bedbugs undergo allows them to develop resistance to insecticides by creating a better internal detoxification system or by forming a thicker skin.

Knowing this, attacking the bugs during their nymph stage, before they first drink blood, could be smart strategy for stopping them in their bloody little tracks.

The researchers also studied the genetic makeup of the bedbug's microbiome –basically, the bugs that live on the bugs. They found genes related to over 400 types of bacteria, some of which help the bedbugs reproduce and grow. Developing antibiotics that destroy these helpful bedbug bacteria could also be another way to squash the spread of the critters.

Male and female adult bedbugs in comparison to apple seeds (Credit: AMNH/L. Sorkin)
Male and female adult bedbugs in comparison to apple seeds (Credit: AMNH/L. Sorkin)

The work of the researchers, which was published in Nature Communications on February 2, comes on the heels of another study published last month, which stated that bedbugs have become more than 30,000 times more resistant to certain insecticides over the years. So seeking out the means to destroy them with novel methods is now more critical than ever.

The data obtained from different locations can also be used to improve our understanding of how bedbug infestations spread throughout cities.

"Bedbugs all but vanished from human lives in the 1940s because of the widespread use of DDT, but unfortunately, overuse contributed to resistance issues quite soon after that in bedbugs and other insect pests," said Louis Sorkin, an author on the paper and a senior scientific assistant in the museum's Division of Invertebrate Zoology. "Today, a very high percentage of bedbugs have genetic mutations that make them resistant to the insecticides that were commonly used to battle these urban pests. This makes the control of bedbugs extremely labor-intensive."

Hopefully, now that we know what makes the bedbugs tick, we can find out ways to short-circuit their biological clocks or at least strip them of the bacteria that helps them thrive. Till then … don't let the bedbugs bite.

Source: American Museum of Natural History

4 comments
Timelord
Diatomaceous earth. It works. A stupid neighbor brought bedbugs into our apartment building. After getting bitten a few days, I dusted all along the floorboards and corners with DE and we were never bitten again. It's hard to evolve resistance against laceration and dehydration, and it works against all the other tiny creepy crawlies, too. Plus it's inexpensive and nontoxic to pretty much anything bigger than a bug. Some people regularly eat food-grade DE by the spoonful.
DahaiDong
Scientists are working on wrong direction with wrong effort to develop new toxic chemicals. U.S. Patent 9220254 discloses how to convert an entire bed into a trap with sleeper as inaccessible CO2 bait. A camper in a tent does not care how many mosquitoes are outside or when they starve. A sleeper at center of a bed sized trap does not care how many bed bugs are at home or when they starve. It is difficult for people to search bed bugs everywhere without missing a single one which lays up to 300 eggs. It is easy for every bug to find sleepers and die on the way for food without survivor. Google “bed sized bed bug trap” to solve the problem immediately no matter how many bed bugs are at home without using any other bed bug control products or services which are obsolete. No night bite can be as sure as sleeping in a bathtub. No daytime bite can be as sure as exterminators never carry bed bugs home. Common sense is good enough to confirm how easy to solve bed bug problem immediately at cost much lower than most people expect.
Jimjam
How about a gene drive against bed bugs?
DocBlake
When I hear that science is working on how to out-smart anything in nature I shudder! We have antibiotic resistant germs, and herbicide resistant weeds, and now insecticide resistant bedbugs ,and far, far too many of their relatives as well. When is science going to get-wise, and get on-board, you cannot outsmart nature...You need to go along with nature, and then she will help you! ---Otherwise, she will kick your dumb Science Butt, up one side, and down the other! With a whole lot of innocent civilian collateral damage to go along with it!