Cockroach milk might be the next big thing! Scientists of a new paper mention a particular type of cockroach that can pump out “milk” in the form of protein crystals to feed its young. This might be more nutritious than cow’s milk, and thus, of potential benefit to us. The findings are published in IUCrJ, the journal of the International Union of Crystallography.
Diploptera punctate is unlike other cockroaches. It can not only give birth to babies, but it can also produce a milk-like substance to feed the latter. According to a team of scientists from India-based Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, this ‘milk’ made up of protein crystals appears to be four times more nutritious than cow’s milk. It is argued that it could be an answer to feeding humans.
Wait. Let this little fact sink in first: an insect can produce milk. How in the world can a cockroach do so? It is indeed a fascinating animal – we all know how they are resilient in an ever-changing and ever-evolving world. Still, it is incredibly fascinating for a cockroach species to synthesise milk. Furthermore, each protein crystal has over three times more energy that the equivalent quantity of cow’s milk. It also contains fats and sugars such that it has been described as a “complete food” by one of the authors of the paper, Sanchari Banerjee. Another benefit of having this milk is that more protein is released from the crystal when the milk is digested, making of it a time-released food.
According to another author from the team, Subramanian Ramaswamy, the food can be turned into a protein supplement. It would be beneficial for individuals who struggle to consume the correct amounts of calories daily as it would constitute a fast way to obtain them.
So, is the next step to milk cockroaches? Since this is obviously not possible, the scientists have, instead, gone to the microscopic level to identify the genes behind the milk protein crystals. These DNA pieces were sequenced so that their products (the protein crystals) could be reproduced in laboratory. Armed with the sequence, they will now use yeast to produce the crystal in large amounts.
Who knows, maybe in some years’ time, we will be having cockroach milk supplements to get the required amounts of calories!