Can you even milk a cockroach?
You might find the picture a little strange, but scientists have been sequencing protein crystals found in the milk of cockroaches. The reason is that their milk is 4x more nutritious than cow's milk, which means that it could be a way to feed the world's population as it grows. The problem is that most cockroaches don't actually produce milk. In fact, Diploptera punctate is the only known cockroach to produce milk because it is the only cockroach that gives birth to live young.
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While to many people the idea of an insect producing milk is weird, it actually fascinated researchers. Their milk contains three times the amount of energy in one single protein crystal than is found in buffalo milk. Of course, milking a cockroach isn't actually feasible, so researchers are trying to determine whether or not they can reproduce the milk protein crystals in a lab.
"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," said Sanchari Banerjee, one of the team, in an interview with the Times of India.
Milk is such a popular drink for developing nations because it is a source of calories and nutrients. It is also time released so that it can sustain a full feeling for a longer amount of time.
"It’s time-released food," said Subramanian Ramaswamy, who led the project. "if you need food that is calorifically high, that is time released and food that is complete. This is it."
It is also important to note that this isn't going to be kale or soybeans - it isn't something that should be used by people trying to lose weight. In fact, it likely shouldn't be used by people eating western diets because most of us already get too many calories per day.
But in certain areas or for people who struggle to get the right amount of calories per day, this could be the quickest and easiest way to get calories and nutrients.
"They're very stable. They can be a fantastic protein supplement," said Ramaswamy.
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Now that researchers know the sequence, they are hoping to be able to produce the crystal in larger quantities, which would make is less gross and more efficient than the other options of milking those cockroaches.