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Bed Bug Pesticides

Bedbugs Foil Pesticides With Special Adaptations In Their Armor

on September 09 2013 1:13 PM
bedbug closeup
A bedbug's outer covering provides both physical and chemical protection against insecticides. Wikimedia Commons/Jiri Humpolicek

Bedbugs have resurged in cities across the world, and a few scientists think they’ve found the little bug’s wily secret: special genes active in its outer shell that produce an anti-insecticide arsenal.

Some scientists think that DDT use in the 20th century and its subsequent ban wiped out all but the hardiest of the little bloodsuckers. The bedbugs we have now seem to be the fittest of the fit, the most resistant to whatever we throw at them; scientific testing shows pesticide bombs don’t work, and neither do sonic devices. But, if we can unravel the bedbug’s strategy for combating poisons, perhaps we can create poisons that can penetrate their frustratingly thick shells.

Fang Zhu, a Washington State University scientist, described some of the genetic traits that contribute to the bedbug’s pesticide resistance in a talk on Monday at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society in Indianapolis. Zhu and colleagues from the University of Kentucky took a close look at the bedbug’s genome to try and pinpoint the origin of its ability to dodge insecticides. In March, they published a paper on the topic in the journal Scientific Reports, detailing how they identified 14 genes in the bedbug’s poison resistance toolkit.

"The surprise discovery we never expected is that most of the genes responsible for pesticide resistance in the bedbug are active in its outer skin-like shell or cuticle,” Zhu said in a statement. “This is [a] unique adaption that has not been discovered in cockroaches, termites, ants or other insects."

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