LSTM Seminar Series: The ecological immunity of bed bugs

News article 29 May 2013

LSTM’s seminar series continued today with ‘The ecological immunity of bed bugs’, a  presentation by Professor Michael Siva-Jothy, Head of the Animal and Plant Sciences  Department at the University of Sheffield.  Professor Siva-Jothy heads one of the UK's leading centres for research in the life sciences, with  work spanning the Arctic and the tropics, single cells and entire ecosystems.

Bed bugs are parasitic insects that feed exclusively on blood, with the common bed bug preferring to feed on human blood. The name ‘bed bug’ refers to the preferred habitat of the insect, areas where humans sleep, particularly inside bedding, attracted by the warmth. Although not exclusively nocturnal, bed bugs tend to be active at night and usually go un-noticed as they feed on their hosts. It had been thought that bed bugs had largely been eradicated in the developed world, however since the mid 1990s there has been a resurgence. Although they do not transmit disease, bed bug bites can result in skin rashes and allergic reactions.

In his presentation Professor Siva-Jothy talked about some of the work his lab has been doing on how the immune system of bed bugs is managed across the insect's lifetime and how reproductive events and phenomena impinge on the immune function. Exploring associations between traumatic insemination and infection transmission to females, and what traits selection on females has produced. Female bed bugs are infected with opportunistic microbes during each traumatic insemination and they have a number of adaptations to offset the negative effects of this process.

The resurgence of bed bugs is associated with increased resistance to available pesticides, greater international and domestic travel, lack of knowledge regarding control of bed bugs.