Cockroaches Resist Poison, Damn Evolution

Aric Mitchell - Author

Aug. 23 2017, Updated 2:39 a.m. ET

Cockroaches have started to resist poison, but not in the typical sense, according to researchers at North Carolina State University.

Bugs become resistant to poisons all the time, but they rarely change their evolutionary behavior to avoid the substance that attracts them to deadly insecticides: glucose.

In a recent study reported by The New York Times, it was discovered that the pesky apartment-dwelling German cockroach, which had once been attracted to the substance, has started to recognize glucose as bitter instead of sweet.

The change in recognition makes the exterminator’s job a little more difficult moving forward and pretty much ensures the mighty bug scientists say have existed for more than 350 million years, will still be around long after we’re gone.

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How are cockroaches using this to resist poison? Well, according to the research, they have hairs on their little bodies — I think I’m going to be sick — that send signals as to whether a substance is bitter or sweet. Typical pest control science has relied on glucose to attract the bug’s interest, thus getting it to bite on the hidden poison. But now, for reasons that are still a little baffling, the hair now sends a different signal for glucose than it once did.

North Carolina State researchers Ayako Wada-Katsumata, Jules Silverman, and Coby Schal, were the authors of the study. Silverman discovered the behavioral change, NYT reported, which made its first appearance in the early ’90s.

Silverman was able to show that the behavior was inherited rather than learned during the cockroach lifespan. Schal speculated that a mutation could have changed the molecules that detect bitter substances, or, he stated, a different mutation might have caused dedicated bitter neurons to have an abundance of standard glucose detectors that had not previously existed.

Gizmodo noted that Schal believes the discovery could help scientists understand why malaria-carrying mosquitoes changed their behaviors to avoid insecticide by resting on ceilings instead of on walls where poisons are typically used.

North Carolina State has been a hub for cockroach research recently. In a separate experiment, Alper Bozkurt, an electrical engineer at the university, theorized that cyborg cockroaches might one day be used to help in disaster response with individuals buried in rubble.

Rescue response, malaria protection. They’re not even as nasty as you might think:

While you may still not want one of these little guys to turn up in your McDonalds hashbrown, it looks like they really could be here to help us after all.

Are you disturbed by this evolutionary change of cockroaches to resist poison, or do you find the research helpful?

[Image via ShutterStock]


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