It might sound gross, but cockroach milk might be making its way into some diets as a superfood. A team of researchers has just sequenced a protein crystal from the midgut of cockroaches that they believe is more than four times as nutritious as cow’s milk.

The Diploptera punctata cockroaches that produce that unique milk. Credit: University of Toronto

The Diploptera punctata cockroaches that produce the unique milk. Credit: University of Toronto

There’s only one species of cockroach that’s known to give birth to live offspring and produce a type of “milk” that contains protein crystals to feed its babies – Diploptera punctata. Further examination of these crystals revealed that just one of them contains over three times the amount of energy found in the same amount of buffalo milk, which contains more energy than standard dairy milk.

In the current study, the team sequenced the genes responsible for producing these unique cockroach milk crystals and replicated them in the lab. Successful replication of these milk crystals opens up the possibility of introducing these proteins into our diet in the future, since milking a cockroach isn’t exactly a realistic option.

“The crystals are like a complete food – they have proteins, fats and sugars,” said Sanchari Banerjee, first author of the study. “If you look into the protein sequences, they have all the essential amino acids.”

In addition calorie and nutrient levels that give them superfood status, they are also time-released, meaning that the crystals release more proteins at a steady rate as they are digested.

“It’s time-released food,” said Subramanian Ramaswamy, senior author of the study. “If you need food that is calorifically high, that is time released and food that is complete. This is it.”

Despite all of its benefits, it’s unlikely that cockroach milk will make its way into many western diets since they already continue too many calories. However, the milk is ideal for those looking for a simple way to get all of the calories and nutrients that they need and it wouldn’t be surprising if they make their way into protein supplements.

“They’re very stable,” Ramaswamy said. “They can be a fantastic protein supplement.”

Journal Reference: Structure of a heterogeneous, glycosylated, lipid-bound, in vivo-grown protein crystal at atomic resolution from the viviparous cockroach Diploptera punctate. 27 June 2016. 10.1107/S2052252516008903

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Copyright 2016 ZME Science

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