Cockroach DNA Gives Clues to Why They're so Strong and Perhaps How to Better Kill Them

Cockroaches are extremely difficult to kill and constantly evolve ways to resist our attempts to control their populations. A new study has sequenced the DNA of roaches, revealing exactly what makes them so resilient and perhaps giving insight into how they can be killed.

The study, published in Nature Communications, specifically looked at the genome of the Periplaneta americana, also known as the American cockroach. The analysis revealed that cockroach DNA is even more fascinating than scientists previously knew.

03_22_roach The American cockroach has a fascinating genome. Yves Herman/Reuters

For example, cockroaches are known for their ability to find food in even the most difficult environments. This is part of the reason they are able to thrive so well in urban areas, Smithsonian magazine reported. The report revealed that this ability to thrive in extreme environments may be due to the roaches’ high number of genes that code for chemical receptors. The bugs have over 1,000 of these genes, including 154 genes dedicated to smelling and 522 dedicated to tasting. This may explain their ability to get around and find food in even the most difficult environments, the study suggests. 

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In addition, the study revealed how cockroaches are able to survive in extremely unsanitary and pathogen-filled environments. While most of us would succumb to disease and death, the cockroaches have evolved cells specifically designed to respond to bacteria and fungi. These cells secrete their own antimicrobial compounds that protect the cockroaches, NBC News reported.

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While the initial results are exciting, the team hopes to use this DNA analysis to uncover even more about the cockroach. For example, young roaches are able to regenerate legs. Better understanding these genes may enable us to mimic these traits. In addition, researchers hope to find the bug’s Achilles' heel hidden deep in their genome.

“Our study may shed light on both controlling and making use of this insect,” the study says.

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