Bedbugs Walking The Earth At The Same Time As Dinosaurs After Evolving More Than 100 Million Years

Editorials News | May-23-2019

Bedbugs Walking The Earth At The Same Time As Dinosaurs After Evolving More Than 100 Million Years

Research by an international team of scientists, including the University of Sheffield, has done a comparison on the DNA of bedbug species to understand the evolutionary relationships within the group and also their relationship with human beings.

The team found that bedbugs are older than bats. A bat is a mammal which people had previously believed to be their first host 50-60 million years ago. Bedbugs have evolved around 50 million years earlier. They rank high among the list of most unwanted human bedfellows but until now, very less was known about when they first originated.

Further research is required for finding what their host was at that time, although current understanding shows that it's unlikely they fed on the blood of dinosaurs. This is possible because bed bugs and all their relatives feed on animals which have a "home" like bird's nest, an owl's burrow, a bat's roost or a human's bed.

The team spent 15 years in the collection of samples from wild sites and museums across the globe, dodging bats and buffaloes in African caves which are infected with Ebola and climbing cliffs to collect from bird nests in South East Asia.

Professor Mike Siva-Jothy from the University of Sheffield's Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, who was part of the team, said that to think that the pests which live in our beds today evolved more than 100 million years ago and existed on the earth side by side with dinosaurs, was a revelation. It represents that the evolutionary history of bed bugs is far more complicated than they previously thought.

Dr Steffen Roth from the University Museum Bergen in Norway, who led the study, said that the very first big surprise that they found was that bedbugs are much older than bats, which everybody assumed to be their first host. It was also unexpected to see that evolutionary older bedbugs were already specialized on a single host type, even though they don't know what the host was at the time when T. rex walked the earth.

The study also showcases that a different species of bedbug conquers humans around every half a million years. Moreover, when bedbugs changed hosts, they didn't become specialised always on that new host. They maintained the capability of jumping back to their original host. This represents that while some bedbugs become specialised, some remain generalists, jumping from host to host.

A bedbug researcher from Dresden University in Germany, Professor Klaus Reinhardt, who co-led the study, said that these species are the ones they can reasonably expect to be the next ones drinking our blood, and it may not even take half a million years, given that many more human beings, livestock and pets that live on earth now offer lots more opportunities.

By: Preeti Narula