Scientists are mulling creating a milk protein found in cockroaches for food supplements. Don't worry, they won't extract it from the insects.
  • Wednesday, July 20, 2016 - 13:12

Cool is generally not what cockroaches are associated with. But scientists recently found one more cool thing about the brown, smelly insect with whiskers. 

After 10 years of research, scientists are set to synthesise milk protein crystals based on the gene structure of cockroaches. Cockroaches have a milk protein that has thrice the calorific content of buffalo milk. (If they come in bottles a few years from now, don’t worry, “Cockroach extracts” will not be on the list of ingredients.) This could have great implications for public health.

Here’s six other cool facts about the cockroach:

There are over 4,000 species of cockroach across the world

And not all are pests. A majority of these live in forests, happily oblivious to humans. Apart from being a food source for birds, insects and mammals, they also contribute to the environment. 

“Most cockroaches feed on decaying organic matter, which traps a lot of nitrogen. Cockroach feeding has the effect of releasing that nitrogen (in their faeces) which then gets into the soil and is used by plants. In other words, extinction of cockroaches would have a big impact on forest health and therefore indirectly on all the species that live there,” says Srini Kambhampati, professor and chair of the biology department at the University of Texas at Tyler, and a world expert on cockroaches, told Live Science.

There go your plans for extermination of the species.

Scientists think cockroaches can possibly survive nuclear explosion

This is partly true as cockroaches can survive radiation, but only to an extent. No wonder they’ve survived several extinction events in history. 

Cockroaches have higher radiation toleration, courtesy their simple bodies and slower cell cycles, can develop tolerance and immunity to poisons and have the advantage of reproducing quickly as compared to other species. 

They’re really old. As a species we mean.

Roaches are a really, really, old species. They have been around on Earth for as long as 360 million years ago. They fed on dinosaur poop and crawled the Earth before humans came to be.

A headless cockroach is still a live roach 

A cockroach without a head can survive for several days to weeks and will eventually die of starvation.

Joseph Kunkel, physiologist and biochemist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who also studies cockroach development, explainsthat in case of human beings, death due to decapitation will primarily occur due to blood loss and drop in blood pressure. 

However, he told www.scientificamerican.com, cockroaches "don't have a huge network of blood vessels like that of humans, or tiny capillaries that you need a lot of pressure to flow blood through. They have an open circulatory system, which there's much less pressure in. After you cut their heads off, very often their necks would seal off just by clotting. There's no uncontrolled bleeding."

FYI, cockroaches can also hold up their breath for up to 40 minutes. (The average person cannot hold their breath for more than 30 seconds or so.)

Cockroach farming is a thing

In China, cockroaches are harvested for medicinal benefits. 

"They really are a miracle drug. They can cure a number of ailments and they work much faster than other medicine," Liu Yusheng, a professor at the Shandong Agricultural university and the head of Shandong province's Insect Association, told The Telegraph

They can be cooked and consumed or their powdered form can be used in creams to treat burns and also in cosmetic facial masks. 

And these cockroaches are not the ones generally found in homes and are of a different species- Periplaneta americana, or the American cockroach.

How does fried cockroach taste you ask? This is how Malcolm Moore describes it in The Telegraph: "The cockroach, whose innards resemble cottage cheese, has an earthy taste, with a slight twinge of ammonia". 

A subject for scientists

Their biological make has been a subject of study for scientists and researchers for several years now.

For example, while cockroach legs are being studied for designing the next generation of prosthetic legs for humans, its exoskeleton and wings are inspiring robot design.