Entomologist sheds light on 250-year-old mystery of the German cockroach

A team of international scientists, including Virginia Tech entomologist Warren Booth, have solved the 250-year-old origin puzzle of the most prevalent indoor urban pest insect on the planet: the German cockroach.

The team’s research findings, representing the genomic analyses of over 280 specimens from 17 countries and six continents, show that this species evolved some 2,100 years ago from an outside species in Asia and were released this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.

One may think by its name that its origins are in Germany. But it is not native to any wilderness in that country. In fact, it doesn’t seem to have any home in the wild anywhere in the world. To date, populations have never been found outside of structures.

Following its evolution, the German cockroach spread from Southeast Asia, hitchhiking around the world in association with humans. In addition to rapid spread, it evolved a resistance to a variety of insecticides, making it extremely difficult to control using over-the-counter products.

According to Booth, the German cockroach is a major public health issue due to its links to disease spread, the contamination of food, and its role in triggering asthma and allergies.

About Booth

Warren Booth is an associate professor of urban entomology in the Department of Entomology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He is also an affiliated faculty of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute at Virginia Tech.

His research interests include:

  • Population and evolutionary genomics of indoor urban pest insects
  • Insecticide resistance evolution
  • Influence of socioeconomic disparity on urban pest population dynamics
  • Mitochondrial heteroplasmy and recombination
  • Invasion biology and ecology
  • Urban pest management
  • Urban evolutionary biology/genomics

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