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Last updated at 14:57 GMT, Friday, 15 March 2013

Battle of the bedbugs

Summary

15 March 2013

Scientists may be on top in the battle against bedbugs. These insects are one of the most difficult to control. But research, from the journal Scientific Reports, could help scientists to develop new, improved control methods.

Reporter:

Rebecca Morelle

Bedbugs

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Report

They feast on our blood while we sleep - leaving itchy, red welts as their calling card. Bedbugs are an insect that many would like to see the back of. But in North America, Europe and Australia, infestations are on the rise - and our insecticides are losing their bite.

Researchers at the University of Kentucky in the US have found 14 genes associated with resistance to these chemicals. They're causing a number of biological changes in the bedbugs. These include the development of a thicker skin that stops the poisons from penetrating and mutations within the insects' bodies that prevent the toxins from hitting the nervous system.

The genes linked to these changes are active in the insect's tough outer shell - creating a formidable first line of defence. These findings could help scientists to develop new insecticides that could either turn these genes off or bypass the pest's molecular shields.

But until these substances are developed, exterminators are having to resort to more primitive tactics.

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Vocabulary

itchy

unpleasant feeling on the skin that makes you scratch

welts

area of raised skin, red in colour, sometimes caused by an insect bite

calling card

evidence that something has been there

infestations

problems where insects are in a place and causing damage

insecticides

chemical substances used for killing insects

penetrating

getting inside of

mutations

changes in the genes that make it different from others of its type

toxins

poisons

formidable

impressive or powerful

exterminators

people who kill unwanted pests (such as insects)