Scientists were able to decode the DNA of bedbugs, which may help find new ways to get rid of the parasites, according to two new studies.
George Amato, co-author of the studies and the director of the American Museum of Natural History’s (AMNH) Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics, said that bedbugs, along with cockroaches, are one of the most iconic bugs of New York City. Although their outer appearance has not changed much over the years, they have constantly evolved to make it harder for humans to exterminate them, he explained.
Researchers found that the gene expression of bedbugs changes after the insects have their firs blood meal. Some of these genes help the pets’ become more resistant to insecticides. According to the researchers, the best time to target bedbugs would be in their nymph stage, before they’ve had their first blood meal.
Louis Sorkin, co-author of the studies and a senior scientific assistant in the AMNH’s Division of Invertebrate Zoology, said that the widespread use of DDT (an insecticide) in the 1940s contributed to insecticide resistance among bedbugs. Currently, a very high percentage of bedbugs have developed genetic mutations for insecticide resistance, according to Sorkin.
For one of the studies, the researchers looked at the RNA and DNA of both living and preserved bedbugs, and they also took RNA samples from females and males during all of the insect’s six life stages to figure out how gene expression changed over time.
According to Mark Siddall, study co-author and a curator in the AMNH’s Division of Invertebrate Zoology and the Sackler Institute, he and the other researchers also found that bedbugs have three different anticoagulant genes.
Moreover, researchers also analysed the microbiome (bacteria) of bedbugs. Overall, the bedbug’s microbiome had more than four hundred bacterial species – which are essential for the insects’ reproduction and growth.
Researchers also looked at bedbugs in over 1,400 locations across New York City and found that the genetic makeup of the insects differed widely depending on which area they lived in.
The results of the other study showed that there are about 187 genes that encode salivary proteins and blood-digesting enzymes. The researchers were also able to identify the genes that make bedbugs resistant to insecticides. Michael Scharf, a professor of entomology at Purdue University in Indiana, said that the new studies may help prevent the insects from becoming pests.
The findings from both studies were published on Tuesday (Feb. 2) in the online journal Nature Communications.
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