Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Cockroaches' DNA reveals why they thrive in filthy places

By identifying which genes are key to the bugs’ survival, scientists hope to find ways to better control them

Ian SampleScience editor
Tue 20 Mar 2018 16.00 GMTLast modified on Tue 20 Mar 2018 16.01 GMT

The secrets of the cockroach’s ability to thrive in some of the most disgusting places on Earth have been discovered in its DNA.

The American cockroach spread around the world after it was introduced to the US from Africa in the early 16th century. Its population exploded as the insects made themselves at home in the dark and moist corners of houses, restaurants and offices, where toilets and kitchens became their favourite haunts.

To understand how the species, which can grow to 5cm long, came to succeed in such filthy and unsanitary nooks and crannies, Chinese scientists deciphered the entire genetic makeup of the American cockroach, Periplaneta americana. They found that the species has more than 20,000 genes, making its genetic code as large as a human’s.

Amid the sequenced DNA, Shuai Zhan, who worked on the project at the Institute of Plant Physiology and Ecology in Shanghai, spotted unusually large groups of genes that appear to help the American cockroach survive in the unenviable niches it has adapted to.

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