“Ewww cockroach?” Yeah, I know what you are thinking. The mere sight of this insect causes repulsion. Don’t even talk about flying cockroaches that give us the mini heart-attack. However, scientists and researchers from Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine (inSTEM) in Bengaluru, India have proposed that these little devils might solve world’s food crisis. We are as surprised as you are!
The team of researchers extracted a protein crystal present in the midgut of a cockroach and sequenced it. Why? Because it is about four times more nutritious than a cow’s milk. In future, it can be the major source of food for the ever-growing world population. It is quite interesting that an insect can produce milk, but what is even more fascinating that those protein crystals contain three times more energy than buffalo milk of equivalent amount, and buffalo milk has more calories than cow milk.
But we cannot go and milk cockroaches like we milk the cattle, right? So the scientists decided to go for sequencing of the particular genes that code for those milk protein crystals and then tried to reproduce them in the lab. In an interview with Times of India, Sanchari Banerjee, one of the researchers, said:
“The crystals are like a complete food – they have proteins, fats and sugars. If you look into the protein sequences, they have all the essential amino acids.”
Aside from being rich in calories, the cockroach milk is also time released. It means that when protein crystals are being digested, they release more protein at the same rate to help with the digestion.
“It’s time-released food,” said Subramanian Ramaswamy, leader of the project. “if you need food that is calorifically high, that is time released and food that is complete. This is it. They can be a fantastic protein supplement.
Sadly, this dense protein milk is a big NO for those working on losing weight. Moroever, it is not even required in western diets probably as we have more calorie intake per day than required. However, in the countries afflicted with food shortage and malnutrition, this could be an easier and quicker supplement for food and nutrients.
The next step for the researchers is to attempt large-scale production. They have the required sequence that will be engineered in yeast to produce the protein crystals in large amounts. Thereby making the process less gross and more efficient than obtaining crystals from cockroach’s midguts.
Yup, we are not wholly convinced either, but if a cockroach’s milk is what it takes to counteract food shortages and under-nutrition affecting the world, we’ll take it. The paper was published in the journal of the International Union of Crystallography (IUCrJ), and you can view it here.