Fancy a glass of cockroach milk? Photo: FelixRenaud
Fancy a glass of cockroach milk? Photo: FelixRenaud FelixRenaud

Cockroach milk could be next superfood

If you're eating breakfast you may want to give this article a miss, especially if it is cereal with milk.

Media outlets are reporting that cockroach milk is likely to be the next superfood in a line of increasingly bizarre attempts to supply the world's dietary needs.

Highlighted under the wordy title "Structure of a heterogeneous, glycosylated, lipid-bound, in vivo-grown protein crystal at atomic resolution from the viviparous cockroach Diploptera punctata” and published in the journal IUCrJ in July 2016, the study basically looks at milk fed to live cockroach young.

The food actually turns to a crystal in the gut of the infant cockroach and that is the focus of the study.

The specific cockroach that may end up feeding humanity is the Pacific Beetle Cockroach.

The study states "A single crystal is estimated to contain more than three times the energy of an equivalent mass of dairy milk.

This unique storage form of nourishment for developing embryos allows access to a constant supply of complete nutrients.”

Originally discovered by Nathan Coussens, a young researcher at Iowa, who noticed shiny crystals spilling out of a roach's gut, the study has been taken up by Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine (inStem), Bangalore.

InStem faculty member Ramaswamy S. said, "I just thought they were uric acid crystals. But Nathan was right to have been so persistent. They were protein crystals.”

It was while working on a roach species called Diploptera punctata at the University of Iowa, that Coussens first discovered these crystals. D. punctata is a strange insect with a mammal-like quality - it "lactates”, producing milk to feed its brood.

The crystals that Coussens had found were actually milk proteins that had crystallised within the guts of roach younglings.

Now, nearly 10 years after the initial discovery of the crystallised milk proteins, their structure has been solved by an international team of scientists including those from the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine (inStem), Bangalore.

Ramaswamy and colleagues plan to use a yeast system to produce these crystals en masse.

"They're very stable. They can be a fantastic protein supplement,” said Ramaswamy.

"It's time-released food,” explains Ramaswamy. "Besides this, these crystals have 3 times the calorific content of buffalo milk. If you need food that is calorifically high that is time released and food that is complete. This is it,” he adds.

The work described here has been published as a paper titled "Structure of a heterogeneous, glycosylated, lipid-bound, in vivo-grown protein crystal at atomic resolution from the viviparous cockroach Diploptera punctata” in the journal IUCrJ in July 2016 and can be accessed here: http://journals.iucr.org/m/issues/2016/04/00/jt5013/index.html


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