Now Assembled Right, Genome Might Lessen the Bed Bug’s Bite

Bed Bugs Genetics

Although an old nursery rhyme tells us not to let the bed bugs bite, it neglects to say how we might protect ourselves. For that sort of information, we turn to science, which has been preoccupied of late with the question of how bed bug infestations keep getting worse. Most recently, science has been examining the bed bug at the genomic level. Here, the bed bug may harbor previously unknown vulnerabilities.

According to a new study led by researchers at the American Museum of Natural History and Weill Cornell Medicine, the newly sequenced bed bug genome could shed light on the bed bug’s basic biology and explain how the bed bug manages to adapt to dense human environments. This study may prove to be especially valuable because it is not limited to the basic genome. It takes in phylogenetic mapping, tracing bed bug activity in humans and their environments, including subway systems. The study also delves into the bed bug’s transcriptome and micobiome.

The researchers extracted DNA and RNA from preserved and living collections, including samples from a population that was first collected in 1973 and has been maintained by Museum staff members ever since. RNA was sampled from males and females representing each of the bug’s six life stages, before and after blood meals, in order to paint a full picture of the bedbug genome.

The answer may lie in ‘Bed Bug Genetics’

“It’s not enough to just sequence a genome, because by itself it does not tell the full story,” said Mark Siddall, Ph.D., one of the paper’s corresponding authors and a curator in the Museum’s Division of Invertebrate Zoology and Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics. “In addition to the DNA, you want to get the RNA, or the expressed genes, and you want that not just from a single bedbug, but from both males and females at each part of the life cycle. Then you can really start asking questions about how certain genes relate to blood-feeding, insecticide resistance, and other vital functions.”

Details of the researchers’ work appeared February 2 in the journal Nature Communications, in an article entitled, “Genome assembly and geospatial phylogenomics of the bed bug Cimex lectularius.”

“Here we report the assembly, annotation, and phylogenetic mapping of the 697.9-Mb Cimex lectularius genome, with an N50 of 971 kb, using both long and short read technologies,” wrote the authors. “A RNA-seq time course across all five developmental stages and male and female adults generated 36,985 coding and noncoding gene models.”

The researchers found that the number of genes was fairly consistent throughout the bed bug life cycle, but they observed notable changes in gene expression, especially after the first blood meal. Some genes, expressed only after the bedbug first drinks blood, are linked to insecticide resistance, including mechanisms that result in better detoxification and thicker chitin, or skin.

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