One of the oldest sayings around is that no species on Earth will be able to outlast the cockroach. (Okay, maybe this critter...) Yes, this insect is a disease-spreading pest, but its ability to survive almost anything life throws at it—including us—is really quite something.
Maybe it's time we tried to learn something from them, no? A group of scientists from South China Normal University in Guangzhou agree.
Gee, what a genome!
The genome is the complete set of DNA and genes of an animal. It's the recipe, the instruction manual, the blueprint. With a genome in hand, you can not only theoretically replicate an animal, you can also examine all of the things that make it it.
Chinese scientists recently mapped out the entire American cockroach genome and—surprise, surprise—it's actually longer than that of human beings! Inside, they found evidence of the incredible adaptations and abilities that make the cockroach so hard to kill. Cockroaches have enlarged genes that relate to immune systems, senses, reproduction and growth, detoxification, and more.
This all makes sense given that cockroaches can:
- survive a week without their head
- regrow a limb if its cut off
- feed on everything from glue to poop
- become immune to pesticides
- survive being crushed by 900 times their own weight
Must we go on?
Help instead of harm
If a human had any of those abilities, he or she would be some kind of superhero. Which is part of the point behind this research. By studying the animals' impressive genome, it might be possible to adapt some of these traits for our own use. Cockroach extract has already been used in Chinese medicine to heal wounds for centuries. Can modern medicine learn ways to make humans stronger and more resistant to disease?
Scientists are on the case to find out!