Once a scourge, bed bugs were nearly eradicated in the latter half of the 20th century. But now the bed bugs problem is back, and Fountain and his fellow researchers are using DNA “fingerprinting” to find out why.
Using genetic techniques, Fountain and his team are identifying “signatures” in a bed bug’s DNA that indicate which particular infestation the bed bug came from. The hope is that using this information, the spread of bed bugs can be documented, helping to lead to better containment measures.
Tracking the Origins of the Bed Bugs Problem
For example, London, England, is a hotspot for bed bugs, and Fountain is trying to use DNA to determine the exact cause.
One theory is that bed bugs have been in isolated pockets in London for years, and for some reasons finally managed to spread into wider areas. Another theory is that the emergence of global air travel helped bring bed bugs into the city, as bed bugs attach to people’s clothing and luggage and fly thousands of miles away from their origin. So the researchers are taking samples of bed bugs from homes in Kenya, a country with frequent air travel to England—and a place where bed bugs have never been controlled. If the DNA of the Kenyan bed bugs matches with bed bugs found in London, then part of the mystery of how the bed bugs problem is spreading will be answered.
Encouraging DNA Samples to Be Kept
The researches are also organizing pest control specialists in London to keep samples of the bed bugs they eradicate, so that their DNA can be analyzed. This information will not only help in identifying the region a bed bug comes from, it could potentially allow for the pinpointing of specific locations (e.g., hotels, apartment complexes) from which bed bugs are spreading.