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Fralin Life Science Institute researcher contributes to sequencing of bedbug genome

February 3, 2016

Bed Bugs
Adult and nymph bedbugs crawl among freshly deposited eggs.

The genetic makeup of bedbug skin plays a significant role in the pest's ability to resist insecticides, according to Virginia Tech researcher Zach Adelman.

The finding, published in Nature Communications on Tuesday, was part of a colossal research project taken on by more than 80 scientists to genetically sequence the bedbug and pinpoint the mechanisms used for insecticide resistance.

Researchers from 36 different institutions worked on the discovery. Adelman's portion of the project involved describing 273 genes found in the cuticle, or skin, of the bedbug.

"Understanding how the bedbug genome is adapting to resist control methods is crucial for stopping the resurgence of this pest," said Adelman, an associate professor of entomology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and a Fralin Life Science Institute affiliate.

In addition to helping answer questions about the current bedbug resurgence, understanding the genome may shed light on whether bedbugs originated from one or multiple sources, according to the study.

Understanding the genome may also help identify and characterize bedbug-produced allergens that may negatively affect human health and well-being, the researchers said.

Bedbugs rely on blood for nutrients, and therefore seek out human hosts. Infestations usually occur around areas where people sleep, such as private homes, hotels, cruise ships, buses and trains, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In recent years, bedbugs have shown increased resistance to nearly every insecticide approved for use in homes, said Adelman. While the species was nearly eradicated after World War II, reservoir populations remained and have resurged in the past 20 years, due to increased international travel.

Bedbugs do not transmit diseases but bites can produce annoying itching and infestations can cause significant economic damage.

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