Bed Bugs and Genomics

Only one thing can make the saying “don’t let the bed bugs bite’ take on a whole new meaning: being bitten by a bed bug. When I was 12 years old, I spent a week at a summer camp. While it was one of my favorite experiences, I mainly remember spending that week covered in itchy, red, bug bites. As the bites seemed to spread like wildfire across the cabin we struggled to find their source, but eventually discovered the culprit. Since then, I’ve been incredibly cautious when it comes to public spaces; the first thing I did when I arrived at Virginia Tech was Clorox my mattress.

I realized that could change during one of our genomics classes with Dr. Haak. We were touring the mass spectrometry lab, and I asked for real life applications of the machinery we were viewing. Our guide mentioned an ongoing study regarding bed bug detection. By analyzing the insects’ fecal matter, scientists can create a ‘genetic footprint’ to identify its presence. Instead of taking precautionary measures or dealing with the aftermath of an infestation, the scientific process can be used to recognize the pest before a problem develops.

Although most people may not share my excitement about the analysis of bed bug fecal matter, the class helped me realize the widespread application opportunity of STEM careers. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived at Governor’s School of Agriculture — as someone who grew up in Northern Virginia, I haven’t been exposed to the industry. However, my time at GSA has taught me that agricultural careers can take many different forms and are a vital part of the global community. I’m excited to have a new outlook on STEM, and hopefully never get bitten by a bed bug again!


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