Bedbug genome sequenced for the first time, casting light on insecticide resistance

Researchers have sequenced the genome of the common bedbug for the first time, providing unprecedented insight into one of the world’s most troublesome urban pests.

The highly ambitious project, which involved 36 different institutions and over 80 scientists, used samples from both preserved and living bedbugs, known more technically as Cimex lectularius, to sequence both DNA and RNA. The oldest samples used have been held by the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) since their acquisition in 1973.

“It’s not enough to just sequence a genome, because by itself it does not tell the full story,” said Mark Siddall, study corresponding author and curator in AMNH’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.”

Image courtesy of Benoit Guenard / North Carolina State University. Featured image courtesy of Graham Snodgrass / Armed Forces Pest Management Bureau via the University of Rochester.

Image courtesy of Benoit Guenard / North Carolina State University. Featured image courtesy of Graham Snodgrass / Armed Forces Pest Management Bureau via the University of Rochester.

Bedbugs have soared in numbers in recent years. In Australia alone bedbug infestations have risen 4,500% since 1999.

“Bedbugs all but vanished from human lives in the 1940s because of the widespread use of DDT, but, unfortunately, overuse contributed to resistance issues quite soon after that in bedbugs and other insect pests,” said Louis Sorkin, study co-author and senior scientific assistant in AMNH’s Division of Invertebrate Zoology. “Today, a very high percentage of bedbugs have genetic mutations that make them resistant to the insecticides that were commonly used to battle these urban pests.”

“Nobody was ready for this,” added Michael Scharf, the O Wayne Rollins / Orkin Chair in Molecular Physiology and Entomology at Perdue University. “It’s reached almost a crisis condition. All big cities in the US are experiencing problems. Our culture had forgotten about bedbugs, and two generations of entomologists haven’t had to deal with them.”

Image courtesy of Andrew Nuss / Purdue University.

Image courtesy of Andrew Nuss / Purdue University.

The research has produced numerous insights into bedbugs that may aid their extermination, but one finding in particular stands out: the presence of genes from the bacteria Wolbachia in the bedbug genome. The result of a process known as lateral gene transfer, the gene appears to only function in male bedbugs.

“Genomic sequences from Wolbachia are present in the bedbug genome,” said Coby Schal, project co-leader and North Carolina State University Blanton J Whitmire Distinguished Professor of Entomology. “We don’t know if the bacterium is co-opting the bedbug or if the bedbug is co-opting the bacterium. Very few of these bacterial genes are functional and we don’t know what proteins they are producing. But it would be fascinating if bacterial genes that are useful to the bedbug, such as those involved in B vitamin metabolism, were incorporated into the bedbug genome.”

“Because the inserted genes create unique genetic profiles in bedbugs, they have the potential of becoming effective targets for pest control,” added Jack Werren, professor of biology at the University of Rochester.

Image courtesy of L. Sorkin / American Museum of Natural History

Image courtesy of L Sorkin / American Museum of Natural History.

By using samples from across the bedbugs’ lifecycle, the researchers were also able to identify specific stages where they would be most resistant to insecticide.

In particular, certain genes that were only expressed after the bedbugs drank blood for the first time were found to be linked to insecticide resistance, as they provided, for example, improved detoxification or thicker skin – known as chitin.

As a result, future insecticides may be developed to target bedbugs at the first nymph stage, before they have had a chance to sample human blood.

The research was published today across two papers in the journal Nature Communications. They can be accessed here and here.

Despite a slew of cybersecurity breaches, people still aren’t taking online security seriously

Cybersecurity breaches seem to be a constant part of modern life, with a new high-profile leak or hack happening almost every week. Despite this, however, British people still aren’t taking adequate steps to protect their data, according to findings published by Cyber Security Europe.

In a survey of over 1,000 people living in the UK, almost a quarter – 23% – admitted to regularly using either their name or date of birth as their password in online accounts – an absolute no-no in ensuring a secure account.

Furthermore, 11% – slightly more than one in ten – said that they only use one or two passwords for all their online accounts, meaning that if one were to be breached, hackers could easily gain access to the others.

Even major attacks affecting large percentages of the population don’t seem enough to prompt people to take better cybersecurity precautions, as 76% of people say they never update passwords after a major breach.

British workers are not practices adequate cybersecurity, which is putting businesses at serious risk. Image courtesy of Transport for London

This is particularly bad news for British businesses, which not only have in the past been accused of not doing enough to protect their customers from cybersecurity incidents, but which will be subject to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) from next year, meaning they could be in serious trouble if poor employee practices leave customer data exposed.

Despite this, only 16% of respondents say their workplaces have increased focus on cybersecurity since the WannaCry ransomware attack earlier this year, the most devastating attack to hit UK businesses of late.

In addition, 60% of people said they only used logins and passwords for online security at work, which given how many people use poor passwords, poses a serious security risk for companies.

“A surprising amount of people still seem oblivious to the threat posed to their personal and, in fact, business information by using their name or date of birth as their passwords,” said Bradley Maule-ffinch, director of strategy for Cyber Security Europe.

“Nowadays, this is far from being just a personal issue. We have seen a spate of prolific attacks and breaches this year alone and businesses must ensure that employees are educated about the basics such as password security.

“With the advent of Internet of Things, increasing numbers of people using their own personal devices to connect to business networks which is an ever-growing threat landscape. This could prove a costly vulnerability for organisations in the wake of GDPR.”

China planning to end sales of fossil-fuel-powered vehicles

Xin Guobin, China's vice minister of industry and information technology, has said the government is working with regulators to put in place a timetable to end the production and sale of cars powered by fossil fuels. It's hoped the move will accelerate the expansion of the electric car market.

Source: Bloomberg

Limited Tesla Autopilot was "partly to blame" for crash

The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has found that Tesla's Autopilot system was partly to blame for a fatal accident in which a Model S collided with a lorry. The safety board concluded that Tesla allowed the driver to use the system outside of the environment for which it was designed,

Source: BBC

Chelsea Manning warns about the risks of AI

During a conversation at Noisebridge hackerspace, Chelsea Manning commented on some of the inherent risks of AI. "We’re now using huge datasets with all kinds of personal data, that we don’t even know what information we’re putting out there and what it’s getting collected for," Manning said.

Source: Ars Technica

US government bans Kaspersky software from its agencies

The Department of Homeland security has ordered government agencies to stop using software products made by Kaspersky Lab because of possible ties between Kaspersky officials and Russian intelligence. The process of discontinuing Kaspersky products is expected to begin within 90 days.

Source: Ars Technica

Hyperloop One selects ten possible routes for the first hyperloop

Hyperloop One has announced that it has selected ten proposed routes for the first hyperloop. The company also announced that it would “commit meaningful business and engineering resources and work closely with each of the winning teams/routes to determine their commercial viability”.

Source: Inverse

Artificial 'skin' gives robotic hand a sense of touch

A team of researchers from the University of Houston has reported a breakthrough in stretchable electronics that can serve as an artificial skin, allowing a robotic hand to sense the difference between hot and cold, while also offering advantages for a wide range of biomedical devices.

Source: Science Daily