Because of their growing resistance to pesticides, bed bugs have become a major problem in cities. Relatively little is known so far about how this resistance spreads and the best ways to stop it.
To get to the bottom of the bedbug issue, researchers at the American Natural History Museum and elsewhere worked to sequence the critters' genomes, a process that involved extracting samples of bed bug DNA from all over the city and comparing each sample. Two papers, published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications document the results of the sequencing.
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As it turns out, bed bug types vary by borough.
Manhattan bugs had more in common with other Manhattan bugs. Brooklyn bed bugs had more in common with other Brooklyn bugs. Bed bugs travel via clothing (one of the reasons they're such a pest in hotels and other public sleeping areas), so it's important to track where they spread in order to note future migration to newer environments.
The bed bug, the parasitic insect whose name strikes fear in the hearts of hotel workers and guests everywhere, is one resilient creature. The first bed bugs were found in ancient Egypt, with their existence likely predating more than 3,000 years ago.
Although bed bugs don't spread disease when they feed off a host's blood, their bites can be incredibly painful and can cause allergic reactions. And after scientists mapped out all the bacteria on the New York subway last year, weird, wacky bed bugs seemed like the next step to understanding the pests that bug the city.
In part, the plan to sequence the bed bug genome was to get a better idea of its microbiome, or the microscopic microbes living in the parasite.
"The better we understand them, the better we can make things to attack them," said Jeffrey Rosenfeld of the American Museum of Natural History, one of the authors of the New York-based study.
And that includes figuring out how to stave off resistance, an ever-growing problem when facing off against bed bug infestations.
If you can figure out the bacteria the bed bug can't live without, then you've got a good shot at finding the antibiotic that could wipe out the infestation. Same goes for genes associated with pesticide resistance, something the second study investigated. Now that scientists know what they're working with, they can figure out how resistance spreads and potentially find effective ways to keep the pests out of our living rooms.
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