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Scientists decode the bedbug's genes to help kill it

Understanding its genome could lead to better pest control.
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Brian Kersey/Getty Images

Just the very thought of bedbugs probably makes your skin crawl, and that's made all the worse by their ability to adapt to new threats. Like it or not, that pesticide you used years ago probably doesn't work any more. What to do? Genetics might just come to the rescue. Scientists have created the first full genome sequence for the bedbug in hopes of defeating its resistance to sprays and other attempts at extermination. You'd think this would have been easy (humans can sequence woolly mammoths, for goodness' sake), but it wasn't -- the team had to compare bedbug genes from 1973 with present-day samples, and even the differences before and after the bugs had their blood meals.

The results might surprise you. Certain genes only manifest themselves after a meal, and they can vary not just from place to place, but between material types. Did you know that bedbugs found on benches have different genes than those on subway turnstiles? Critters within a given neighborhood will tend to share traits, but you could see significant changes as you go from district to district in a given city.

The discoveries might change pest control for good. Observers could better map infestations and find a way to cut off migrations before they create problems in other neighborhoods. Also, antibiotics that kill bedbug-friendly bacteria could be useful complements to pesticides. While it's doubtful that you'll ever be completely safe from bedbugs in urban environments, they might not be quite as much of a persistent nuisance as they are today.

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