TU Study Shows Bats, Cavemen To Thank For Bedbugs

Wednesday, February 4th 2015, 7:50 pm
By: Tess Maune

Bedbugs can cost thousands of dollars if they infest our homes, and now it's looking like we have bats and cavemen to thank.

One TU professor's study goes back a quarter-million years and uses bedbugs that came over from Europe.

The best kind of bed bug is a dead one, most would say, and that's exactly how they came in to TU Biology Professor, Dr. Warren Booth's lab.

“We send out packages on a weekly basis to pest control companies, hoping that they'll return vials of bed bugs,” Booth said.

His most recent study was published in the journal Molecular Ecology. It zeroed in on where bedbugs came from and why they reappeared in the 1980s.

Based off DNA studies, he said there are two distinct groups of the blood-sucking pests.

“So this paper essentially shows there's a bat-associated lineage and a human-associated lineage in Europe,” Booth said.

He said bats were the first host for bedbugs in ancient times, and said bedbugs were introduced to humans a quarter of a million years ago when people shared caves with bats.

That's when Booth said some of the parasites feeding on bats evolved and started feeding on humans instead, and now the two groups no longer interact.

“We need to understand the evolutionary history of the organisms before we can bring it right down to what's happening here,” said Booth.

Bedbugs, he said, were brought to the United States from other countries.

So far only the human-feeding group has been found here, and that population is surging.

“We've shown in a previous study that it only takes one pregnant female bedbug to infest an entire building, it takes about two years for that to happen,” Booth said.

He said U.S. bedbugs are 90 percent resistant to insecticides.

His European study, and research being done in his lab now, could, one day, help find a sure way to eradicate the pests once and for all.

“It keeps me awake at night, not bedbugs infestations, but thinking about what we can do with them,” Booth said.

Students at TU are studying bedbugs found in Oklahoma, as well as surrounding states, to determine how they're spreading.

The findings could eventually help in controlling the populations.