Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Sunday, February 07, 2016

The Urban Pestilence

"At this time, there is no 'silver bullet' for impacting a specific gene to control bed bug potentials. [But] the presence of a nearly complete genome will make identifying potential targets much easier."
Joshua Benoit, University of Cincinnati

"Work on bedbugs previous to this was like feeling your way in the dark. By providing this genome, it's like turning a light on. Now researchers know better how to explore."
"We had this 60-million-year-old bedbug in amber that, when you look at it, it looks essentially identical to bedbugs today, even though that specimen obviously predates them feeding on people by a lot."
"The naive idea was that maybe by looking at their genomes, we might find something unique to explain why they seemed unchanged."
George Amato, director, American Museum of Natural History, Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics
male and female bed bugs pictureSource: CDC (PD)
Professor Benoit's study published in Nature Communications, along with a second by Dr. Amato, may revolutionize how scientists may eventually come up a solution to some of modern society's most vexing little problems. Little problems, as in the existence of a tiny bloodsucking creature that inspires horror in people, resulting in a very large problem as in how to destroy them and free up homes, apartments, hotels and other vulnerable places from the scourge of their presence?

The teams of researchers have reported the complete genome sequencing of the lowly, irritating, loathsome bedbug. Both of the published studies isolated evidence that through a process named horizontal gene transfer, bedbugs over time had taken advantage and incorporated genes from bacteria; as well, bedbugs sport an ecosystem of micro-organisms living in and upon them.

Not a particularly pretty vision, but a distinction that humans too can boast. Think gut microbia, and of all the microbes, mostly beneficial to us, that thrive on our skin, within our bodily depressions and our interiors. We need most of these bacteria to remain healthy, so it's just as well we cannot see them; enough that we know they exist and are useful to us.

The inspired thought among researchers, arising from that realization is that there is the potential that bacteria specific to bedbugs may also be responsible for their survival. Therefore, specifically identifying and targeting any bacteria that protect bedbugs could provide enterprising scientific investigation with a solution amounting to a purposeful defence against the pestilence they represent.

Genes were discovered in Professor Benoit's study that assist the female of that bloodsucking species to survive the act of copulation where the male bedbug stabs the female in the abdomen. If the protective gene was disrupted in its life-saving function the potential is there to terminate the bedbugs' lifespan, thus diminishing the infestations that they liberally engage in.

Bedbugs are an ancient enemy of humankind. The common bedbug (Cimex lectularius) has been disgusting humans throughout history. They suck human blood, cause pain and welts and anguish in the knowledge of their infestation. Scientists have found that bedbugs have become extremely resistant to whatever chemicals are being used in their extermination.

To the point that while killing them for collection-study purposes it required 30,000 times more insecticide than required to kill bugs bred in the laboratory for 30 years.

Dr. Amato and museum colleagues (including researchers fro Weill Cornell Medicine) discovered that despite their ancient lineage, not much appears to have changed over thousands of years. The organism that the bedbug represents may have reached its ultimate physical form matched to function at an extraordinarily early stage in its development.

The bedbug, as nature's perfect conception of a troubling companion to humanity. Yes, an understanding deserving of the coined expression of repugnance: Gross!

bed bugs biting a humanCredit: Dr. Harold Harlan/AFPMB (CC)

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