Eating in a losing cause: limited benefit of modified macronutrient consumption following infection in the oriental cockroach Blatta orientalis

Thorben Sieksmeyer, Shulin He, M Alejandra Esparza-Mora, Shixiong Jiang, Vesta Petrašiūnaitė, Benno Kuropka, Ronald Banasiak, Mara Jean Julseth, Christoph Weise, Paul R Johnston, Alexandro Rodríguez-Rojas, Dino P McMahon*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
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Host–pathogen interactions can lead to dramatic changes in host feeding behaviour. One aspect of this includes self-medication, where infected individuals consume substances such as toxins or alter their macronutrient consumption to enhance immune competence. Another widely adopted animal response to infection is illness-induced anorexia, which is thought to assist host immunity directly or by limiting the nutritional resources available to pathogens. Here, we recorded macronutrient preferences of the global pest cockroach, Blatta orientalis to investigate how shifts in host macronutrient dietary preference and quantity of carbohydrate (C) and protein (P) interact with immunity following bacterial infection.


We find that B. orientalis avoids diets enriched for P under normal conditions, and that high P diets reduce cockroach survival in the long term. However, following bacterial challenge, cockroaches significantly reduced their overall nutrient intake, particularly of carbohydrates, and increased the relative ratio of protein (P:C) consumed. Surprisingly, these behavioural shifts had a limited effect on cockroach immunity and survival, with minor changes to immune protein abundance and antimicrobial activity between individuals placed on different diets, regardless of infection status.


We show that cockroach feeding behaviour can be modulated by a pathogen, resulting in an illness-induced anorexia-like feeding response and a shift from a C-enriched to a more P:C equal diet. However, our results also indicate that such responses do not provide significant immune protection in B. orientalis, suggesting that the host’s dietary shift might also result from random rather than directed behaviour. The lack of an apparent benefit of the shift in feeding behaviour highlights a possible reduced importance of diet in immune regulation in these invasive animals, although further investigations employing pathogens with alternative infection strategies are warranted.

Original languageEnglish
Article number67
Number of pages14
JournalBMC Ecology and Evolution
Publication statusPublished - 18 May 2022


  • Allergens
  • Animals
  • Anorexia
  • Cockroaches
  • Diet
  • Feeding Behavior/physiology
  • Nutrients


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