September 14, 2010

Next on the Menu: Cocktail de Cucaracha

by Heather Falconer

It’s often joked, half-seriously, that if a meteor were to strike Earth the only thing left living would be cockroaches. If you’ve ever tried, you know that these creatures are some of the hardest to kill. The arthropods have a reputation for being invincible — and with good reason. Cockroaches have an outer carapace that is both strong and flexible, allowing the creatures to squeeze through small crevices (or withstand a foot stomp) without being squished. They’re also highly organized insects that exhibit group-based decision making that aids in their survival. (Oh, yes, they’re clever little things.) And now, scientists have discovered that there is even more to this insect’s ability to survive and thrive.

Researchers from the University of Nottingham in England noticed that many soldiers returned from service in the Middle East with unusual infections. They wondered how these microbials could effect humans so badly, but leave locusts from the region completely unaffected. The result of this wonder was a research project that used the ground up body parts of both locusts and American cockroaches in controlled experiments to identify and isolate the agents responsible for fighting off disease and infection.

As a result of the study, the researchers discovered that compounds found in cockroach brains and locust thoraxes kill 100 percent of the bacteria they were subjected to, without having any adverse effect on human tissues. Included in these tests was the E. coli strain responsible for meningitis.

While the compounds are all still in the process of being identified, there is hope that a cocktail of both cockroach brains and locust thorax could eventually be used for treating a whole host of bacterial infections in humans.

S. Lee et al. The brain lysates of locusts and cockroaches exhibit potent broad spectrum antibacterial activity. Society for General Microbiology meeting. Nottingham, England, September 7, 2010.

Heather Falconer

Written by

Heather Falconer holds undergraduate degrees in Graphic Arts and Environmental Science, as well as an MFA in Writing and an MLitt in Literature. She is currently completing her PhD in Rhetoric and Composition, with an emphasis on rhetoric in/and/of science. Heather has worked internationally in academic publishing as both an author and editor, and has taught a wide range of topics – from research writing to marine biology – in the public and private educational sectors.