Cockroaches are found all over the place with seemingly few problems. And now a team of Chinese scientists say they have worked out what makes them so hardy.
The researchers, led by Sheng Li from South China Normal University in Guangzhou, sequenced the DNA of the American cockroach (Periplaneta Americana), which it’s safe to say isn’t too popular.
They found that it had an expanded set of genes that enables it to sense smells from food, particularly fermented food, according to The Guardian. They also have an internal detoxification system to protect against eating anything toxic, and a powerful immune system.
“Our genomic and functional analyses in the American cockroach provided insights into its success in the adaptation to urban environments and the biology,” they write in their paper, published in Nature Communications.
The American cockroach is found throughout the US, having been introduced from Africa in the 17th century. They grow to a few centimeters in length, have wings, and are generally just all around awful. I have had one fly at my head before. Yes, it was terrible.
Cockroaches are also known for their seeming invulnerability, though, hence why they are found in all sorts of places. This is in part due to its aforementioned abilities, but also that they reproduce incredibly quickly. There’s even the myth that they can outlast a nuclear armageddon, although that’s probably not true.
But they are still pretty incredible. According to National Geographic, the creatures were found to contain more than 500 “taste buds”, which allows them to eat a varied diet and adapt to a range of environments. And they also have genes that enable them to more easily survive in toxic environments.
Impressively, they also found genes that allowed the cockroaches to regrow limbs. The team noted in their paper that when two specific genes were depleted, the regeneration of limbs was “completely prohibited”.
“We are currently investigating whether there is a ‘growth factor’ connecting leg regeneration in the American cockroach to its ethanol extract that is used for wound healing and tissue repair in humans,” they said.
Despite its impressive credentials, the American cockroach is still threatened by global warming. So the scientists hope that by studying this insect, we might do better at controlling its population, as well as learning more about its insect superpowers.
Aside from being a pest, in Chinese medicine the cockroach is considered to have healing powers, and its ethanol extract has also been used as a drug for wound healing and tissue repair. So it’s not all bad.