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Cockroach Milk Just Might Be The Next Superfood

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Cockroach milk, no matter how it sounds, just might be the next superfood for humans, a new research suggests.

It gets better: the milk comes from no less than baby cockroaches. Scientists have discovered that the Pacific Beetle Cockroach feeds its offspring with a formula that is chock full of protein, fat and sugar, CNN reports. This insect liquid won’t be found in the dairy section, though.

“Any liquid harvested from a cockroach is not true milk. At least not as we think of it,” Becky Facer, director of school and educator programs at the Fernbank Museum of Natural History in Atlanta, says.

The liquid, unlike regular milk squeezed from cows, is in the form of protein crystals found in the guts of baby cockroaches.

Leonard Chavas, one of the scientists leading the study, explains that these protein crystals are akin to milk for the cockroach infants, necessary for their growth and development. Chavas says that these crystals have three times the energy of an equivalent volume of buffalo milk, which is four times the equivalent of cow milk.

Chavas says the question was what this milk was really made of. He and his team examined the Pacific Beetle cockroach, scientifically known as Diploptera punctate. It is the only know species of cockroach to be viviparous, or able to give birth to live babies, instead of laying eggs.

Like other viviparous creatures, this cockroach provides its growing embryos with nutrition in the form of a protein-rich liquid secreted by its brood sac – the insect version of a uterus.

When the embryos consume the liquid, protein crystals develop in their gut. Chavas and his colleagues removed one of these crystals to study its potential nutrition source.

After tests and genome sequencing, the researchers found it to be a complete food, including protein, essential amino acids, lipids and sugars. Chavas said that the energy content of the liquid is so high, that this cockroach species grows bigger babies than other roaches.

The crystal formation came as a surprise, but other crystals, including insulin, are formed within the body for easier storage, and could have the possibility of being part of the human diet, the research said.

The cockroaches are “milked” by extracting crystals from the midgut of cockroach embryos. While not the most efficient way to extract the substance, Chavas and his team are looking into reverse bioengineering cockroach milk. But first, they need to study and understand the exact biological and chemical processes that happen.

“For now, we are trying to understand how to control this phenomena in a much easier way, to bring it to mass production,” Chavas said. He admitted to having tasted the cockroach milk once, after having lost a drinking game, and says it had “no particular taste.” He does think ice cream would be ideal, imagining “a flavor with honey and crispy pieces.”

The study was published in the International Union of Crystallography.

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