Roaches on a Roll

Cockroaches have to be one of the most hated insects, if not animals, on the planet. They’re crawly bugs which get into everything, eat everything and no matter how hard we try, seem to be indestructible. Unfortunately for humans, a recent study has shown that roaches have taken another step in outsmarting us.

If something ‘lures’ you, it attracts or tempts you. “I was lured into the shop by the shoes in the window.’

Coby Schal and a team of researchers at North Carolina State University in Raleigh recently published a paper which shows that the German cockroach – Blattella germanica – has evolved to avoid foods which contain glucose. They do this because they taste glucose not as sweet but as bitter. This is an advantage for them because many cockroach
baits
contain glucose, which lure the insects into eating poison. The Word asked Professor Schal what changed in the cockroaches to cause this difference.

When we say something is ‘the million dollar question’ we mean it’s the big question and we don’t know the answer.

“That’s the million dollar question. In this paper we did not get to the underlying genetic mechanism. We went as far to describe the fact that the mechanism involves what is called the peripheral nervous system, which is the sensory system which sends information to the brain,” Professor Schal said. Specifically, the team believes the change occurred in the cockroach’s taste hairs, which are their taste buds.

The change in German cockroach behavior was first noticed back in 1993. Joel Silverman, who helped with the paper, worked for a company which made baits. The company introduced baits in the mid-80s. At first they were successful, but then the company found that the cockroach numbers were not going down. Mr Silverman tested some them of the insects for insecticide resistance. Instead of finding this adaptation, Silverman found that the insects refused to eat an ingredient in the bait – glucose.

The important thing to remember about this change is that like any adaption it stems from a random mutation.

“There’s huge misinformation about this study and about evolution in general. People tend to have this idea that evolution operates willingly. That you want something to happen and it happens. Some people have misquoted this study that cockroaches have learned to avoid glucose. Nothing could be further from the truth,” Professor Schal said.

The title of this article ‘Roaches on a Roll’ means the cockroaches are doing something. It’s an idiom that means someone is doing a lot of something, usually good. “I was on a roll today at work and finished three reports.’

This adaption is a little problem for the cockroach. The paper shouldn’t be seen as evidence of some super roaches coming soon.

“Glucose is a big part of our diet and cockroaches eat our food. By giving up the ability to eat glucose, the cockroach actually gives up a huge important portion of its diet,” he said.

Original article by Ryan Scott – Sydney, Australia. Text edited by The Word’s methodology team

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No one seems to like cockroaches. These bugs get into everything, eat everything and are very hard to kill. Unfortunately for humans, a new study says that roaches are changing more.

Coby Schal and a team of researchers at North Carolina State University in Raleigh wrote a paper which shows the German cockroach – Blattella germanica – has evolved to avoid foods which contain glucose. This is because they taste glucose not as sweet but as bitter. This is good for them because many cockroach baits contain glucose. The Word asked Professor Schal what changed in the cockroaches to cause this difference. He said the researchers think the change happened in the cockroach’s taste hairs, which are their taste buds.

The study looked at German cockroaches. These are the species which humans usually see. The cockroaches rely on us for food because they eat the same things as us. The name German cockroach is an inaccurate name. They probably came from South East Asia.

The important thing to remember about this change is that like any adaption it comes from a random mutation. Professor Schal said evolution and mutations don’t happen willingly. Cockroaches have not learned to avoid glucose.

If you give something up, you stop or quit it. ‘My mother gave up smoking last year and is much healthier.’
The title of this article ‘Roaches on a Roll’ means the cockroaches are doing something. It’s an idiom that means someone is doing a lot of something, usually good. “I was on a roll today at work and finished three reports.’

This change is not all good for the cockroach.

“Glucose is a big part of our diet and cockroaches eat our food. By giving up the ability to eat glucose, the cockroach actually gives up a huge important portion of its diet,” he said.

Original article by Ryan Scott – Sydney, Australia. Text edited by The Word’s methodology team

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Cockroaches have to be one of the most universally reviled insects, if not animals, on the planet. They’re crawly bugs which get into everything, eat everything and despite our most concerted efforts are seemingly indestructible. Unfortunately for humans, a recent study has shown that roaches have taken another step in foiling our attempts at controlling them.

Coby Schal and a team of researchers at North Carolina State University in Raleigh recently published a paper which shows that the German cockroach – Blattella germanica – has evolved to avoid foods which contain glucose. Namely, they do this because they taste glucose not as sweet but as bitter. This adaption is an advantage when many cockroach baits contain glucose, which lure the insects into eating poison. The Word asked Professor Schal what precisely mutated in the cockroaches to cause this change.

When we say something is ‘the million dollar question’ we mean it’s the big question and we don’t know the answer.

“That’s the million dollar question. In this paper we did not get to the underlying genetic mechanism. We went as far to describe the fact that the mechanism involves what is called the peripheral nervous system, which is the sensory system which sends information to the brain,” Professor Schal said. Specifically, the team suspect the change occurred in the cockroach’s taste hairs, which are their equivalent of taste buds.

The study focused on German cockroaches. These are the species which humans encounter most often. In fact, the creature only lives near and around human settlements. It relies on us for food, eating much of what we eat, and a warm place to live. The name German cockroach is a misnomer. The species probably originated from South East Asia.

The change in German cockroach behavior was first recorded back in 1993. Joel Silverman, who is a co-author on the paper, worked for a company which manufactured baits. The company introduced baits in the mid-80s. After initial success, the company found that the cockroach numbers were not going down. Mr Silverman obtained some of these insects and tested them for insecticide resistance. Instead of finding this adaptation, Silverman found that the insects refused to eat an ingredient in the bait – glucose.

As to why it took 20 years to follow up on Mr Silverman’s findings, Professor Schal put it down to the slowness with which the academic community responded to the first study and the time it took to find certain expertise – in particular finding a post-doctoral researcher with electrophysiological expertise to measure the responses going on in the cockroaches’ nervous system. The tests confirmed what the observations saw. Cockroaches were fleeing from glucose because glucose was stimulating the sensors which usually detected bitter chemicals.

The important thing to remember about this change is that like any adaption it stems from a random mutation.

“There’s huge misinformation about this study and about evolution in general. People tend to have this idea that evolution operates willingly. That you want something to happen and it happens. Some people have misquoted this study that cockroaches have learned to avoid glucose. Nothing could be further from the truth,” Professor Schal said.

Mutations happen all the time. Some mutations are neutral such as eye color which provides no benefits – unless a person lives in a culture which favors one eye color over another. Other mutations can be deleterious. They cause deformities or weaknesses, so the animal doesn’t pass the genes on. Occasionally, a mutation appears which gives the animal an advantage.

“That is presumably what happened here. A mutation arose that allowed the cockroach to perceive glucose as a bitter substance. This cockroach then avoids eating the bait and by avoiding eating the bait it survives,” Professor Schal explained.

This adaption comes at some cost to the cockroach. The paper shouldn’t be viewed as evidence of some super roaches on the horizon.

“Glucose is a big part of our diet and cockroaches eat our food. By giving up the ability to eat glucose, the cockroach actually gives up a huge important portion of its diet, so this mutation is in fact a bad mutation in the absence of insecticide baits. It’s only when you have insecticide baits that this mutation becomes favorable,” he said.

The paper has immediate practical interest for all those concerned with controlling the bugs. However, from a scientific point of view the studies are quite significant.

The title of this article ‘Roaches on a Roll’ means the cockroaches are doing something. It’s an idiom that means someone is doing a lot of something, usually good. “I was on a roll today at work and finished three reports.’

“What’s unique about this – and there are a number of important things – is that it’s a mutation in that it’s a change that has affected behavior. It’s a change that affected a response to a nutrient. These types of mutations in response to a nutrient have not been seen before.”

It’s good to know roaches have contributed to some good.

Ryan Scott – Sydney, Australia

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