6 Foolproof Ways to End a Bed Bug Infestation

I wish all advertising were this straightforward. Image Credit: Flickr/wackystuff
I wish all advertising were this straightforward. Image Credit: Flickr/wackystuff

Cimex lectularius is the most common type of bed bug species, found in temperate regions. Their cousins C. hemipterus occur in tropical regions. Members of one of these two species are currently copulating on my bed (at least someone is). I have a sneaking suspicion I brought them back with me from the Gomantong Caves in Sandakan, Borneo Island, whose inhabitants (billions of cockroaches and millions of bats) I spent 15 tense minutes with last month.

Like this one, my mattress is too new and pretty to be burnt and thrown away. Image Credit: Flickr/Orin Zebest
Like this one, my mattress is too new and pretty to be burnt and thrown away.
Image Credit: Flickr/Orin Zebest

The Internet very nearly sent me ricocheting into gloom with its information on the invincibility of these creatures but I held strong and spotted a few ways I might yet win this war. Trouble is, none of them score very high on the practicality scale.

  1. Rent/Borrow a commercial freezer. Set it to -32 degrees Celsius. Place suspected mattress(es) inside for 15 minutes. This will kill all stages (eggs, five nymphal stages and adult) of bed bugs.
  2. Set your heater to 45 degrees Celsius and leave mattress(es) inside for 7 minutes. This will kill all stages of bed bugs. If it’s May and you know anybody travelling in Chennai, find a way to sneak your mattresses into their luggage. Once in Chennai, arrange for mattresses to be kept in sun for 7 minutes and demand the duped party that they return your mattresses.
  3. Buy a cage of rodents. Rodents eat bed bugs. So do pharaoh ants, centipedes, spiders Don’t bother buying bats. Bats don’t. This marked dislike bats have towards bed bug pheromones is probably what let them thrive back in the ice age with humans and bats in caves.

    That's for sure. Image Credit: Flickr/Ethan Prater
    That’s for sure. Image Credit: Flickr/Ethan Prater
  4. Sterilize existing bed bugs by feeding them rabbit blood laced with antibiotics that kill off crucial gut bacteria in the bed bugs. Without these good bacteria, the bed bugs become stunted and sterile. Wait 413 days (maximum life span) for existing bugs to die out. In the meanwhile, sleep > 5 feet away from infestation as that is the farthest from which the bugs can detect you.
  5. There’s no need to be afraid. If ever in a situation where one is being chased by angry bed bugs, one only need run faster 126 cm per minute.
  6. After the extermination, hire a bed bug hound. These dogs can spot bugs with 90% accuracy within minutes. Do this once again after a month to ensure no relapses.

Maybe it’s time to rethink biofilms

Biofilm of Pseudomonas aeruginosa under antibiotic gradients.  Credit: Nuno Oliveira
Biofilm of Pseudomonas aeruginosa under antibiotic gradients.
Credit: Nuno Oliveira

Bacterial infections affect millions of us every year. With antibiotics in our arsenal, they may not be as deadly now as they were before, but there’s still a large number which get away. In fact, it’s been observed that some infections are not just resistant to antibiotics, but are more active in their presence!

When bacteria colonise a region they do so by either multiplying as free-floating organisms or by forming a sort of ‘slime’. This slime is called biofilm and the sliminess comes from a protein called the EPS matrix released by the bacteria. Housed inside the sticky matrix, the colony is able to fight antibiotics better. The understanding so far was that this is because the microbes are now working as team.

Recently, however, a group of scientists from the USA, the UK and Spain announced that they had found significant evidence supporting a contrary theory – that a biofilm is not a feature of microbial cooperation, but one of ecological competition.

The rivals here are the multiple varieties or ‘strains’ of bacteria that are co-residents of a single biofilm. Their experiments showed that biofilm growth was greater when multiple strains of the bacterium species Pseudomonas aeruginosa were involved, than when it was a single strain affair. This could be because of the teamwork theory, i.e. multiple strains working together for mutual benefit, but what they observed next couldn’t.

“When we mix two strains, one strain is basically eliminated,” said Dr. Kevin Foster, Professor of Evolutionary Biology at the University of Oxford, who was part of the team that conducted the study. “Clearly, one strain is not gaining an evolutionary benefit. Cooperation involves both parties benefiting, like plants and pollinators.”

Furthermore, it wasn’t only a rival strain that could boost biofilm growth, the scientists found. Even just the presence of an antibiotic called pyocin, produced by some other strains of the bacteria, had the same effect. It appears that the original strain was recognising pyocin as a sign that its rival was near and reacting by multiplying even faster so that it can eliminate the threat. This would explain why small doses of antibiotics often stimulate bacterial growth instead of inhibiting them.

“This is not the first study suggesting that biofilm formation is a way for bacteria to protect themselves from general stress or predators,” said Dr. Foster via email, “but this is probably one of the first to really argue that direct competition with other bacterial strains and species is central to the ‘decision’ to make biofilm.”

Important to consider before making broad inferences from such experiments is whether the theory would stand true even when tested on different species too. Though this study was done using a single bacteria species, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Dr. Foster isn’t very worried. “There is good reason to believe that our observations will transfer to other species,” he said. “While people have not commonly mixed strains like we have, it is widely known that adding clinical antibiotics a many species induces biofilm formation.”

That is one well-built pig!

Pig thought
Disclaimers: This is a regular pig. Pigs don’t think in English. (Image modified from FreeImages.com)

When we think of ‘meat’, whether it’s from chicken, fish, beef or whatever else, we’re referring mostly to the muscle mass of that animal. Naturally, more muscle means more meat, which makes everyone except the animals and vegetarians go hurray.

That’s why these pigs are special. They have been engineered to possess a defective version of a gene called MSTN.  Ever since scientists produced a line of “mighty mice” by knocking out this gene in 1997, we’ve known that it limits muscle growth. So in this story, MSTN is the bad guy. Using a special gene editing technique called TALEN (Transcription Activator-Like Effector Nucleases), scientists from S.Korea and China announced last week that they had produced 32 bulked up or ‘double muscled’ piglets with silenced MSTN genes.

It’s too early to celebrate, however — because no genetically modified (GM) animal been approved for human consumption so far. Why? There are too many unanswered questions. By altering one gene, can we be sure we’re not mutating another? By letting the mutant loose in the wild will we not cause an ecological imbalance? How are we supposed to regulate over-ambitious experimenters? And of course there are serious issues of animal rights.

Yet, the ‘double-muscled’ pigs are being seen as a potential game changer. This is because the TALEN technique, specifically targets only one particular gene — no genes are being transplanted between species, so the extent of engineering is much less dramatic and presumably less risky.

This wasn’t the case with the AquAdvantage salmon developed more than 20 years ago. Here, the engineering that sped up the growth of the commercially valuable fish involved inserting genes from different species. Fears about what would happen if the GM fish reach the ocean and begin to replace native populations and their potential to cause allergies resulted in the company running out of money and the technology remaining in limbo.

Atlantic Salmon
Atlantic Salmon (Original image: USNOAA/Wikimedia Commons)

The path’s not all clear for the GM pigs just yet. For one, only 13 out of the 32 piglets lived beyond eight months and according to Nature News, the primary source for this article since no papers have been published yet, only two are still alive, of which one is in good health. Moreover, muscly piglets in the womb spell trouble for mothers and frequently leads to birthing issues.Till these hurdles are dealt with, it’s unlikely that any government will budge, but the scientists are optimistic about traditionally adventurous China.

I made a bit of a lazy late night effort to get an idea of what the situation is like in India with respect to consumption of transgenic animals, but there does not seem to be much discussion yet. My guess is that we’re way too far from having the kind of regulatory system that would even make such a debate constructive. Of course the Modi government has been, for better or for worse, noticeably softening the official stance on GM crops however.