“The American cockroach has a strong capability of limb regeneration during the nymph stages, which is the main reason to call it ‘Xiao Qiang’ in China,” the researchers wrote. The name translates as “little mighty one," and the team found genetic pathways that underlie the process.
DNA can also explain their noxious habits.
“Cockroaches generally live in moist and unsanitary areas and are particularly fond of fermenting foods; thus, they have numerous opportunities to be exposed to microbes and pathogens,” the team wrote. The insects have extra genes related to chemoreception, or smell.
And the insects have evolved sophisticated ways to deal with their dirty environments. Their cells respond to infection with bacteria and fungi by secreting antimicrobial peptides that go into the hemolymph — the juice that squirts out when you stomp on a roach.
Plus they have natural detoxification mechanisms. Targeting these genetic pathways might be a better way to kill the pests, the Shanghai researchers suggested.
It also might be possible to exploit these properties, they said.
“Beyond serving as a pest, this cockroach is also important in traditional Chinese medicine, well documented in Chinese medical encyclopedias,” they wrote. “Moreover, its ethanol extract has been developed as a prescribed drug (Kang Fu Xin Ye) for wound healing and tissue repair.”
Understanding the genetic secrets could help scientists replicate the cockroach’s superpowers, they said.