Monday, February 8, 2016
Not Good Company in Bed
Having to work with an exterminator may not be most people’s dreams, but most people aren’t biological geneticists. When Warren Booth, from the University of Tulsa thinks of New York City, he’s not singing the Frank Sinatra song; he’s thinking of bed bugs. Bed Bugs are perhaps the city’s bestmodel of evolutionary genetics. This is due to the species close extinction in the 1940’s as pesticides first emerged, yet an eventual flourish with new generations becoming resistant. In an article also posted by the New York Times earlier this week on these bugs, when Scientists mapped the genome of the bugs, they found co-relational variation of subspecies in relation to the subway lines. High transit is acting as a catalyst for these creatures to find ways to new niches, in which generations of bedbugs fill. Each neighborhood varies and subsequently the bedbugs niche it fulfills differs, amounting to a higher challenge to exterminate with so many environmental adaptions. So not only do New Yorkers have to pay the rising subway fare, the price essentially includes the diversification of bed bugs that travel with them.
Dr. Booth teamed up with Dr. Ondrej Balvin, researcher from Charles University in Prague to assimilate a comprehensive data set of Bedbugs. The leading discovery was that, “The common bedbug, Cimex lectularius, feeds not only on humans but on other animals, especially bats. So as well as collecting human-feeders, the researchers gathered bedbugs from bat roosts in houses, churches and castles (Booth, 2016).” With this information, Dr. Booth was able to map out the DNA of 214 bed bugs. Although currently a part of the same species, he found extreme differences genetically in the bed bugs found in caves, and those collected by exterminators from apartments.
This solidifies a prior hypothesis of convergent evolution; that bedbugs predominantly lived in caves, and when humans began to reside in caves, then bed bugs assimilated to their new host. One example of assimilation is the change in sleep cycle. As Bats are nocturnal bed bugs has to adapt to humans sleep cycle in order to receive sustenance. Bed bugs that still feed on bats follow their hosts sleep cycle. Also, these adapted bedbugs live longer with nutrients in human blood as opposed to those feeding on bat’s blood. This conclusion of almost near diversion within the same species is extremely exciting for Dr. Booth and others. They view these pests as a future new branch on the evolutionary tree, grafted on by humanity. However poetic of a light Dr. Booth may see the Cimex lectularius in, The Plaza Hotel still is unlikely to hold a convention presenting his results.