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Mutant Bugs!

March 20, 2013

ImageThis past week was spring break for UNM, and what a perfect time to write about the creepy crawlies that could be living with you in your hotel rooms. We all remember the bed-bug outbreak of the summer of 2012. Since then, my family and I have been overly cautious checking for signs of bed bugs. We immediately strip down hotel bedding looking for living bugs, larvae, or blood stains indicating they had at one point been in the mattresses. Hotels were quick to spray insecticides and to get rid of infected mattresses entirely. But, it is possible that their readiness to terminate the bed bugs caused them to become even stronger. Natural selection can be a real jerk sometimes.

Bed bugs appear to be more resistant to insecticides than other insects, and they are able to increase their gene expression when insecticides are present for more protection. The expressed genes in the cuticle detoxify insecticides before they can reach the nervous systems of the bugs allowing them to pump out the poisons before harm is done. Deeper inside, the bugs can also increase gene expression of “kdr” allowing pesticide resistance within the nerves. These multiple and variable levels of defense against pesticides are unlike other insects and allow bed bugs to be much stronger and harder to eliminate.

As hotels and other people became afraid of the bed bug infestations the use of pesticides probaly rapidly increased in an attempt to exterminate all of the bugs and their eggs. All this pesticide usage did was to eliminate weak bugs and to allow stronger bugs to proliferate. Meaning that the bugs that were able to reproduce had already been able to withstand pesticides and would then create progeny that had the same genetic makeup, the same detoxifying cuticles and protective nerves, and would not be effected by the previously used pesticides.

This article looked at the genes that were expressed in the bugs who were able to withstand pesticide penetration. Hopefully by learning about the ways in which the bugs can survive we will better understand how to exterminate them. In the mean time, be sure to check your hotels thoroughly because you really don’t want any hitchhiking pesticide resistant bed bugs coming home with you.

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