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Your next healthy superfood: cockroach milk?

Mmm. Scientists investigate a stomach-turning food concept using highly nutritious protein crystals found in creepy-crawly cockroaches.

This is just a normal, egg-laying cockroach.

Amanda Kooser/CNET

May I offer you a tall, cold glass of cockroach milk? Why are you running away? It's good for you! I promise!

An international group of researchers discovered that milk-like protein crystals produced by Diploptera punctata cockroaches are an excellent source of calories and nutrition. That could be good news for scientists working out how to feed a hungry planet, but gross news for anybody who's squeamish about cockroaches.

The bug's common name is the Pacific beetle cockroach, and it's the only one known to bear live young. The mother roach produces the protein crystals to feed the embryos in the brood sac. Just don't expect farmers to open up vast new cockroach ranches where cockroach-pokes rope, wrangle and milk the insects.

Scientists sequenced the genes for the milk protein to reproduce the substance 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," researcher Sanchari Banerjee told the Times of India.

Should the cockroach-inspired protein crystals ever make it to the consumer food market, the manufacturer will have a bit of a PR nightmare to overcome. "Cockroach does a body good" just doesn't quite sound right.

Perhaps what scientist Subramanian Ramaswamy told the Times of India will convince people: "If you need food that is calorifically high, that is time released and food that is complete, this is it." Ramaswamy envisions the crystals being used as a protein supplement.

The researchers published a study on the findings, titled "Structure of a heterogeneous, glycosylated, lipid-bound, in vivo-grown protein crystal at atomic resolution from the viviparous cockroach Diploptera punctata," in the International Union of Crystallography journal this month.

(Via Science Alert)