All in the family: Inbreeding key to bedbug spread

Tue Dec 6, 2011 6:54pm EST
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By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Inbreeding may be the secret to the bedbug's success, U.S. researchers said on Tuesday.

After nearly disappearing in the United States, the bloodsucking pests have made a comeback in recent years, quickly infesting apartment buildings and stubbornly resisting common insecticides.

The city of New York alone spends as much as $40 million a year in bedbug control.

A study of bedbug genetics presented on Tuesday at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene meeting in Philadelphia now suggests why.

A team of entomologists led by Coby Schal and Ed Vargo of North Carolina State University studied the genes of bedbugs infesting three multistory apartment buildings in North Carolina and New Jersey and found very low genetic diversity -- meaning most of them were very close relatives.

They were so close in fact that the team suspects it may have taken just one or two founder insects to start an entire infestation.

"We find that bedbug infestations basically start from a very small number of individuals," Schal said in a telephone interview.

"A single mated female bedbug starts the infestation. She gives rise to offspring and those offspring mate with each other and with their mother," he said.   Continued...