Some bed bugs have developed a pesticide-resistant gene, allowing them to withstand insect treatments and bug bombs.
There has been a rapid and worldwide resurgence of bed bugs in the past decade, in part because of their ability to resist pesticides, said Praveen Mamidala, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Entomology with Ohio State’s Ohio Agricultural and Research Development Center in Wooster, Ohio.
Mamidala and four other OSU researchers conducted, to their knowledge, the first study on the genetics of bed bugs.
The two-year study was conducted to identify genes in the bed bugs resistant to pesticides and was titled “Transcriptomics of the Bed Bug,” co-authored by Mamidala and Xiaodong Bai, another postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Entomology with OARDC.
The study was conducted on two groups of bed bugs, a group of live pesticide-susceptible bed bugs held in Omprakash Mittapalli’s lab since 1973 with no pesticide exposure and a group of live pesticide-exposed bed bugs collected in 2009 and 2010 from a Columbus apartment that had undergone repeated insecticide treatments.
Mittapalli, one of the researchers and corresponding authors of the study, was unable to comment because he is out of the country.
RNA, or genetic material, was extracted from 15 individual bed bugs at different developmental stages and was sent to the Purdue Genomics Core Facility for gene sequencing, Mamidala said.
Researchers then compared the resulting gene sequences between genes associated with the pesticide-exposed and the pesticide-susceptible bed bugs.
They identified detoxification genes within the bed bugs.
Detoxification genes neutralize toxic substances, such as pesticides to lesser toxic and excretable substances, Mamidala said.
The identified detoxification genes from the study might also be considered when designing more effective pesticides in the future, he said.
There are four modes of resistance that insects use to overcome pesticide toxicity: target sensitivity, penetration resistance, behavioral resistance and metabolic resistance, Mamidala said. Mamidala estimated billions of dollars have been lost in the hospitality industry because of bed bug infestations.
There have been two confirmed bed bug cases on campus in the past few years, said Daren Lehman, director of operations for Student Life.
Confirmed cases occurred in Drackett Tower in 2009 and in a Buckeye Village apartment last fall, Lehman said.
“We have been very lucky with very few confirmed cases,” Lehman said.
Reported sightings are directed to Carl Bowman, director of custodial operations of Student Life. Bowman investigates the sighted bug and contacts a pest control company to exterminate the bug if it is confirmed a bed bug.
“Ohio is definitely on the forefront of bed bug issues,” said Joshua Bryant, research associate in the Department of Entomology.
Pest Control Technology Media Group (PCT) ranked Columbus seventh in a list of top 15 “most bed bug-infested cities” in 2010.
New York City ranked first on the list, Philadelphia second and Detroit third.
On its website, Terminix said it developed the list by compiling and analyzing the amounts of calls made to Terminix service centers throughout the country.
Bryant suggested the first action one should take when sighting a suspected bed bug is to try to catch it and put it in containment for pest control companies to identify the bug.
He said homeowners should veer away from using bug bombs and aerosol pesticides on the shelves of hardware and grocery stores because most store-bought pesticides contain pyrethroids.
Pyrethroids are one of the most common pesticide classes and as proven in “Transcriptomics of The Bed Bug,” they are the main pesticides bed bugs can resist.
Store-bought pesticides irritate rather than exterminate bed bugs, causing the pests to disperse to different areas of the home, Bryant said.
“It’s a misconception that bed bugs only hide in the bed, they hide in every room of the house,” Bryant said.
In heavily infested homes, bed bugs might be found on the ceiling or even in the television, he added.