Perhaps one day in the future, we will look at the insect on the right with the same awe and respect as the insect on the left. Everyone loves the humble honey bee: tireless, devoted, and amazing. But not so for the dweller-in-the-dark on the right. The Pacific Beetle cockroach is not so well known, and his other relatives are not held in such high regard. If you have ever lived in any major metropolis, you know this fellow all too well.
There are signs that insects and roaches in particularly may end up on the menu in a number of ways…Don’t make that face. It’s already happening. Watch…Okay for the squeamish among you, anyone eating lunch or former New Yorkers who still have nightmares of roach-infested apartments, you might want to skip this particular video and move on to the scientific premise that follows.
I know you’re asking what does the Answer-Man have to do with cockroaches but it’s not that far removed from the comic-related stuff I already write. Science, sci-fi and comics overlap in weird and sometimes terrible ways.
In comics, we allow the creation of super-serums which alter mankind for the better. Super-serums are technically another way of saying “steroids with no side-effects besides being super-awesome!” It doesn’t sound the same to say Captain America — Steroid Abuser!
You see how we ended up with super-serum, right?
The difference is that science in the real world is still a bit behind most comic universes’ technological curves. Funny as it sounds, scientists and engineers take sometimes take creative inspiration from science fiction media, extrapolating the new from the creative ideal. Science is also taking cues from successful implementations in nature. Remember Velcro? Technically called touch fasteners, they were discovered by emulating nature.
The first touch fasteners were developed by Swiss electrical engineer George de Mestral who in 1941 went for a walk in the woods and wondered if the burrs that clung to his trousers — and dog — could be turned into something useful.
If you have a cat or a dog and go for walks in the park, you know all about such burrs. The annoying burr lead to the inspiration for this amazing fastener we use ubiquitously.
Modern scientists are diverting more time and energy looking to nature to find new ways for humanity to survive in a world where resources are growing ever scarcer and our world more complex.
Enter: Biomimetics! (I love this word…) A Wikipedia answer says:
Biomimetics or biomimicry is the imitation of the models, systems, and elements of nature for the purpose of solving complex human problems. The terms “biomimetics” and “biomimicry” derive from Ancient Greek: βίος (bios), life, and μίμησις (mīmēsis), imitation, from μιμεῖσθαι (mīmeisthai), to imitate, from μῖμος (mimos), actor. A closely related field is bionics.
Living organisms have evolved well-adapted structures and materials over geological time through natural selection. Biomimetics has given rise to new technologies inspired by biological solutions at macro and nanoscales. Humans have looked at nature for answers to problems throughout our existence. Nature has solved engineering problems such as self-healing abilities, environmental exposure tolerance and resistance, hydrophobicity, self-assembly, and harnessing solar energy.
And apparently this applies to the star of this essay: Roach ‘milk’.
This is not a trigger warning. Adults can handle science and accept scientific inquiry can be challenging. Ready? GO!
An essay that could have been named:
“‘An Insect Could Save Your Life One Day’ or Roach ‘Milk’ — I am not drinking that. Nope not happening, EVER.”
After learning of a product which we hope will have a better name than “Roach Milk,” the question remains: Would you drink it?
Made from the complex protein-lipid-carbohydrate fluids found in the stomachs of the this uncommon cockroach, this fluid has 4 times the protein found in normal milk with a variety of other nutritional benefits including lipids and other carbohydrates. It out performs buffalo milk which was once the top contender. Science hesitates to call it a super-food but if research bears it out, it may be coming to a shelf near you.
But it’s “roach milk,” right? Who would even consider drinking this diabolical and terrifying drink from the Marquis de Sade’s most demented of nightmares? Someone who looks like a kind and gentle grandmother: Professor Barbara Stay.
As terrible as the idea may seem, this is actually an intermittent step along the way to their ultimate goal. Feeding people using technological mimicry of natural chemical processes.
In the beginning they may be using “roach milk” and harvesting it from the source, but that is not their ultimate goal. It is just an example of trying to find natural resources in unlikely places.
What if we told you it was just a complex liquid filled with complex protein chains, lipid molecules and carbohydrates that was artificially generated based on the “milk” found in the bellies of cockroaches.
No cockroaches are harmed or used to create this artificial protein-lipid-carbohydrate, but its formula is directly comparable to “roach milk” in every conceivable way except no roaches were used.
Would you drink it, then?
Probably. Energy-rich, slow-digesting, complex foods are very hard to come by in the common diet. Finding them in a single liquid is almost impossible, normally…
THIS is what these forward-thinking companies hope to create one day, the ability to replicate complex molecular structures in order to feed human beings for less cost, less weight and better nutritional composition than normal food may give.
Artificial Roach Milk or what we will call for the rest of this essay, ARM, is ultimately what this company and many others in the future are hoping to create by replicating existing molecular constructs found in nature using technology.
Where could ARM suddenly become a lifesaving technology? I can name three quick ideas but someone smarter could probably name more. In fact, I’m counting on that.
Life rafts/Military emergency supplies: It could be designed to keep well, stay stable and edible for months, could sustain the life support needs of a human for many days longer than normal food would.
Disaster Zones: Air dropped into disaster areas in the first hours, it could be distributed, and for a short time, supplement food supplies until greater help could arrive.
Space Travel: ARM could be the primary means of nutritional supplementation of choice on long deep space missions. Of course, other food would be sent, but with this as a high density energy and protein source, other more select food choices could be made.
Does the idea still seem so repulsive, since we would be creating ARM in a lab and factory process?
Think of the good it could do despite its humble origins as a biological process in the belly of a common cockroach. Cockroaches have been around for over 350 million years. Prolific, adaptable, and tougher than nails, some roaches can live for ten days without a head. Others can survive levels of radioactivity that would kill a human dead.
What if Nature’s infinite coolness included these rare chemical structures and they were stored in a container adaptable and resilient enough to survive the millennia until we were crafty and intelligent enough to discover them?
What other tiny things will we owe our eventual entry into the greater universe? We need to start showing some respect for nature’s ingenuity.
Answer-Man’s Musings on Cockroaches © Thaddeus Howze (2016)
- Cockroach Milk: Yes. You Read That Right. (n.d.). Retrieved September 02, 2016, from http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/08/06/488861223/cockroach-milk-yes-you-read-that-right
- Pacific Beetle cockroach. (n.d.). Retrieved September 02, 2016, from http://cockroach.wikia.com/wiki/Pacific_Beetle_cockroach
- “Cockroaches Have The Most Nutritious Milk On Earth!” YouTube. N.p., 15 Aug. 2016. Web. 02 Sept. 2016.
The Answer-Man does muse scientifically but only when asked politely and with a bribe of his favorite European scones and the right Tupelo honey. Barring that, you can just follow him on Twitter or support his writings on Patreon. He promises the next time he talks science it won’t include cockroaches or crawly things of any kind.