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article imageCockroach milk may be the next superfood

By Karen Graham     Jul 27, 2016 in Science
The next big superfood could likely be crawling around behind your refrigerator, but only if you live in the Asia Pacific region of the world.
Scientists from the Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine (inStem) in Bangalore, India recently unraveled the structure of a milk protein from the gut of a cockroach species called Diploptera punctata.
D. punctata is commonly called the Pacific beetle cockroach and is distinctive because it is the only cockroach in the world that is viviparous, giving birth to live babies that have developed within the mother's body. All other cockroaches lay eggs that develop outside the mother's body.
The Pacific beetle cockroach also is unique in that it produces something scientists call cockroach milk that it feeds its young. This "milk" contains all the necessary nutrients a young cockroach needs to grow.
It's all in the crystals
But to find out just what the milk contained, scientists used X-ray crystallography and discovered crystals. Actually, they found that a single milk crystal contained over three times the energy of the same amount of dairy milk, reports Time.
Atomic-resolution structure of an in vivo-grown cockroach protein - III.
Atomic-resolution structure of an in vivo-grown cockroach protein - III.
International Union of Crystallography
“The crystals are like a complete food — they have proteins, fats, and sugars,” said Sanchari Banerjee, one of the main authors of the study. “If you look into the protein sequences, they have all the essential amino acids,” reports Inquisitr.
Leonard Chavas, another scientist involved in the study explained that the cockroach embryos grow inside a brood sac, sort of like a human uterus. A protein-rich liquid is secreted, nourishing the babies so they grow quickly as the crystals form in their midguts. The crystals in the liquid are so full of energy that cockroach babies grow bigger than offspring of other species.
The scientists examined some of the crystals, including doing genome sequencing, and discovered they were a complete food. "It is what one would need: protein, essential amino acids, lipids and sugars," Chavas said.
CNN is reporting that Chavas says the formation of crystals is easy to explain. After all, other crystals, including insulin, take shape within the body for easier bodily storage. But the big thing is that the crystals have the potential for human consumption, and maybe, a way to feed the world.
According to the data obtained by the research team, the crystals contained in the cockroach milk may be the most nutritious and highly caloric substance on Earth. The liquid has roughly four times the nutritional value of cow’s milk. “I could see them in protein drinks,” said Subramanian Ramaswamy, also part of the research team.
Here  an atomic resolution (1.2 Å) crystal structure is reported of heterogeneous milk proteins g...
Here, an atomic resolution (1.2 Å) crystal structure is reported of heterogeneous milk proteins grown inside a living organism (the cockroach) in their functional niche.
International Union of Crystallography
Ramaswamy says the crystals also have a timed-release feature about them, releasing energy over time, instead of doing so all at once. “It’s time-released food," he says. “If you need food that is calorically high that is time released and food that is complete, this is it.”
Milking a cockroach isn't easy
Actually, you can't milk a cockroach. The crystals are extracted from the midguts of the cockroach embryos, a rather tedious process. But now that they know the chemical makeup of the crystals, the scientists says that by using bioengineered yeast, a system could be built to make the crystals in large quantities. The same basic method is already being used to make artificial sweeteners.
There are also a couple problems that have popped up. One being the researchers aren't entirely sure the crystals are safe for human consumption.But they weren't trying to find a new superfood, anyway. They just wanted to know more about the species.
And the second problem has to do with marketing. Should the cockroach crystals prove to be safe to ingest, what would you call the product? "Cockroach Milk" just doesn't sound too appealing, does it? Suffice to say that cockroach milk may be a long time in coming to a store near you.
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