In case you missed it, an international team of scientists has discovered that a type of cockroach feeds its bug babies a formula that is loaded with protein, fat, and sugar.
Dubbed “cockroach milk” by the researchers who discovered the substance, the bug juice is being heralded by CNN
and other media outlets as potentially the “next superfood.”
But before you run off to your local health food store to ask for it, here are some details you might want to know:
What exactly did researchers find?
Scientists led by India’s Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine found that the Pacific Beetle Cockroach — the only species of roach known to deliver live babies instead of laying eggs — nourishes its growing embryos with a protein-rich liquid secreted by the bug’s version of a uterus.
Is it really roach milk?
Actually, no. Soon after the embryo ingests the liquid, it takes the form of protein crystals within the bug’s gut to nourish it.
What’s in it?
In reporting their findings — in the obscure scientific journal published by the equally obscure International Union of Crystallography — the researchers said the protein crystals have far more calories than cow’s milk and contain protein, essential amino acids, fats, and sugars. “A single crystal is estimated to contain more than three times the [caloric] energy of an equivalent mass of dairy milk,” they wrote. “This unique storage form of nourishment for developing embryos allows access to a constant supply of complete nutrients.”
Is it fit for human consumption?
Not likely — at least not now anyway. Researchers said the crystals could have the potential for human consumption one day, but there are some logistical challenges that would need to be cleared (see below).
How do you milk a cockroach?
You don’t. There’s no way to extract the embryonic protein liquid and the crystals would need to be harvested from the guts of roach embryos — a delicate prospect at best, given the tiny size of the bugs.
The researchers are hoping to bioengineer a synthetic form of roach milk based on the crystals. But to do that they face two major challenges:
The scientists need to understand the biological and chemical mechanisms underlying the process of the crystals’ production before developing a lab-produced alternative to the real thing.
Marketing anything called “cockroach milk” would require getting consumers beyond the gross-out factor, which may be the biggest challenge of all.
For the record, Leonard Chavas — one of the researchers who discovered the protein crystals — told CNN
he tasted the stuff himself, after losing a drinking game with his colleagues.
His take: "No particular taste."
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