An international team of scientists has just sequenced a protein crystal which is located in the mid-gut of cockroaches. What is the reason for that?
It is proven to be more than four times as nutritious as the milk of a cow and, the researchers also think that it could be the key to feeding our growing population in the future.
Even though most cockroaches do not produce milk, the one named Diploptera punctate, which is also the only known cockroach to give birth to live young, has been showing to pump out a type of ‘milk’ containing protein crystals to deed its babies.
The fact that an insect can give milk is pretty fascinating. But what fascinated the researchers was that just a single one of these protein crystals contains more than three times of the amount of energy that is found in an equivalent amount of buffalo milk.
Clearly milking a cockroach is not the most feasible option, so an international team of scientist headed by researchers from the Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine in India, has made the decision to sequence the genes which are responsible for producing the milk protein crystals so they would see if they could somehow replicate them in the lab.
Sanchari Banerjee, a member of the team, in an interview with the Times of India, said:
“The crystals are like a complete food – they have proteins, as well as fats and sugars. If you look into the protein sequences, they have all of the essential amino acids.”
Not only is the milk a dense source of calories and nutrients, but it is also time released.
As the protein which the milk contains is digested, the crystal releases more protein at an equivalent rate to continue the digestion. Subramanian Ramaswamy, the one who led the project said:
“It is time-released food. If you need food which is calorically high, as well as that is time released and food which is complete. That is it.”
It is very important to point out that this dense protein source is never going to be for those that are trying to lose weight and probably, it is not even required for most western diets, where we are already eating too many calories on a daily basis.
However, for those who struggle to get the number of calories that are required per day, this could be a quick, as well as easy way to get the calories and nutrients. Ramaswamy said:
“They are very stable. They could also be a fantastic protein supplement.”
Now, the researchers have the sequence, and they hope that they will get the yeast to produce the crystal in much larger quantities, making it slightly more efficient than extracting crystals from cockroach’s guts. Who needs kale and quinoa when you have cockroach milk supplements?
Yes, we are not 100% sure either. But, if it is helpful in alleviating the food shortages we will have to deal with this generation, we are going to take it. The research was published in IUCrJ, which is the journal of the International Union of Crystallography.