As the global population grows we’ll need more and more food to keep everyone healthy and nourished. Developing nations face this challenge more than other countries, but scientists are working on many interesting ways to keep humanity provided with proper nutrition, including using a very special kind of cockroach. Let’s dive into today’s amazing science story by asking the big question: Can cockroaches feed the world? Listen to this Question Your World radio report produced by the Science Museum of Virginia to find out.
First of all we must keep in mind that our planet is filled with all kinds of weird animals. We’ve got a mammal that lays eggs. Weird. We’ve got a bird that swims better than it can fly. Strange. We also have a specific species of cockroach, The Pacific beetle cockroach, that gives live birth and then produces milk. How bizarre! That cockroach is exactly what an international group of scientists have been studying because the milk crystals that this insect produces could play a vital role in the future of nutrition on Earth.
This particular cockroach produces these milk crystals to feed its young. Remarkably, the “milk” here is about three times more dense than buffalo or cow milk. The milk here is super dense with proteins, fats, and sugars. Many scientists consider these milk crystals to be superfood, giving the living system everything it needs for upkeep and nutrition. The greater issue now is how do we get this milk in normal quantities? Keep in mind, tiny insects will produce tiny byproducts. A cow can easily produce up to eight gallons a day, but these little cockroaches will only create a minuscule fraction compared to larger animals.
Scientists took the initiative here by sequencing the genetic information needed for this milk to be produced. The goal is to attempt to get a bacteria to produce these crystals in lab. Once the production has begun they can then find a way to put it in a form that can be consumed by the many people around the world that struggle to meet daily nutritional needs. Our daily lives in the United States is not going to be the ideal testing ground for these milk crystals because we are not having issues finding nutrition. In fact, we consume more calories than we need here, but there are many places around the world where a daily source of nutrition is still very difficult to come by. These scientists hope to be able to take these milk crystals and reproduce them in a lab in order to deliver them around the world to the many people that are in need of a cheap, healthy, and consistent form of nutrition.
Long term applications for this idea could also include remote production of this milk crystal in places far from home like on board the International Space Station or Mars. For now the testing will continue in hopes to have some success with crystal production in the near future. Once the production has been deemed safe then testing can begin.
Sure, cockroaches are considered totally gross by most people Earth, but this is a great reminder of the unbelievable potential that surrounds us in the natural world. Keeping all of our planet’s species safe and accounted for while also encouraging science programs that explore out-of-the-box options like this are vital to the future of the human species. Our day to day world may not involve a lot of nature, but we must keep in mind that we are absolutely a part of the natural world here. Our decisions can create massive changes for other species. Our planet is a remarkable place with over 75 billion tons of living things. Everything from the cure for cancer to the cleanest way to provide energy for us could be laying right in front of us. Keeping species like this cockroach around is vital for future generations since they will face new issues that we can’t even predict right now. Regardless, the amount of resources available to us on this planet is what we are limited to for the time being. Let’s make it a point to preserve the natural world because we are absolutely a part of that story too. Everything is on Earth is connected. The decisions we make will impact everything else, including cockroaches that make milk.