Cockroach milk: the nutrient-rich alternative that researchers want to scale?

Signal of change / Cockroach milk: the nutrient-rich alternative that researchers want to scale?

By Michelle Lai / 20 Sep 2016

A decade ago, Nathan Coussens from the University of Iowa noticed that milk protein crystals in cockroaches contains proteins, fats, sugars and the essential amino acids – making it similar to mammalian milk. Further research found that this milk – specifically from Diploptera punctata, the only type of cockroach which gives birth to live young – is energy dense, offering four times the calories of cow’s milk.

Presently, an international team of scientists, led by biochemist Subramanian Ramaswamy at the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine in Bangalore, is sequencing the genes of the milk protein crystals. The ultimate aim is to produce cockroach milk in large quantities, for human consumption, by genetically engineering yeasts.

How does it taste? Like nothing in particular, a researcher comments, but flavours can always be added…

So what?

We know cockroaches to be disease-bearing pests, but could they also be the source of our next nutrient-rich milk alternative?

This signal of change shows two potential paths for development: cockroach farming for milk on the one hand, and lab-based milk production without the roaches, on the other.

The amount of energy and water invested into producing dairy milk and also the current alternatives, such as soy and almond milk, and the greenhouse gases emitted, make both options interesting.

Already, insects are entering conventional Western diets, in forms such as protein powder from crickets used in energy bars. Why not extend this to insect milk? The edible insect industry is predicted to be reach a value of more than 303 million USD by 2020. The Food and Agriculture Organisation promotes diets including edible insects.

In times of crisis, the cockroach may offer additional benefits. One of the hardiest organisms, cockroaches are able to survive nuclear wars, surviving on dead or decaying organic matter; they can even live without a head for more than a month!

But there is a long way to go before this reaches the market. As yet, there is no substantial evidence demonstrating the safety of cockroach milk for human consumption. Will you be watching this space?

Sources

Natural Society (August 5, 2016) Could Cockroach Milk Be The Next Superfood? 

NPR (August 6, 2016) Cockroach Milk: Yes. You Read That Right 

IUCR (July, 2016). Structure of a heterogeneous, glycosylated, lipid-bound, in vivo-grown protein crystal at atomic resolution from the viviparous cockroach Diploptera punctata 

What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

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