For the study, Anderson and his team first sprayed pesticides on bedbugs from Jersey City and measured how many “detoxifying enzymes”—enzymes that would protect them from the insecticide—they produced to protect themselves from the poison. They found that Jersey City bedbugs produced more detoxifying enzymes than those raised in a laboratory.
Then, the researchers exposed bedbugs from New Jersey, Michigan and Ohio (along with a group raised in a laboratory) to each pesticide and recorded how much poison it took to kill half of them. The lab-raised bedbugs died almost instantly when exposed to even a small amount of insecticide—like bedbugs are supposed to. But the other populations displayed buggy superpowers, and stubbornly survived even as the researchers pumped more and more poison into them. It took only 0.3 nanograms (about one third of the mass of an average human cell) of acetamiprid to kill the lab-raised bedbugs, but 10,000 nanograms (about the mass of a grain of sand) to off the Michigan and Ohio populations. That’s a lot of poison for something smaller than an apple seed.
“While we all want a powerful tool to fight bedbug infestations, what we are using as a chemical intervention is not working as effectively it was designed,” Anderson said in a prepared statement. “In turn, people are spending a lot of money on products that aren’t working.”