An international team of scientists at the Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine (inStem) have found that the milk produced by the Pacific beetle cockroach has the potential to be a future superfood. Recently published findings reveal that the protein-rich crystals found in the midgut of this particular lactating cockroach far outcompete mammalian milk from different species in terms of energy and nutrient content. Prior to this study, buffalo’s milk was considered the most energy-rich milk option. Scientists discovered that a single midgut crystal, however, contains three times the caloric energy content of buffalo’s milk and four times that of cow’s milk.
Diploptera punctata, native to Hawaii, is the only known viviparous cockroach, meaning it gives birth to live young. During gestation, the mother insect lactates the nutritious liquid to the young, providing them with a rich source of proteins, fats, and sugars. After the embryo ingests the liquid, crystal proteins develop within its midgut. The scientists wanted to know what the crystals were made of, and decided to extract and sequence one of them.
According to Sanchari Banerjee, a coauthor of the study, “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.”
The scientists in the group claim that the crystal, when recreated in a lab under controlled settings, has the potential to be a valuable protein supplement. Subramanian Ramaswamy, a biochemist on the research team, commented on the safety of the crystals for human consumption: “In principle, it should be fine. But today we have no evidence that it is actually safe for human consumption.”
Scientists from inStem in Bangalore, India are searching for ways to recreate the crystals in large amounts using bioengineered yeast in the lab. "For now, we are trying to understand how to control this phenomena in a much easier way, to bring it to mass production," says Leonard Chavas, one of the authors of the study.
In addition to being high in calories and nutritious, cockroach milk is also time-released. When the protein solution is being consumed and digested, the crystal continues to provide protein at a consistent rate through the body. The crystal's unique scaffolding and release mechanism are valuable properties that may be useful in designing nanoparticles for drug delivery, according to the researchers.