Apologies for the delayed weekly posting. I am currently visiting colleagues in China so I am a bit busy with meetings, and my clock is a discombobulated due to travel. But, I made it safely to China, and the visit has been great so far. So many great projects taking place- they are really pushing the envelope with regards to optimizing the BSF process. Now, on to the publication of interest this week.
So, with my weekly readings, I came across the following article:
Nyakeri, E. M., M. A. Ayieko, F. A. Amimo, H. Salum, and H. J. O. Ogola. 2019. An optimal feeding strategy for black soldier fly larvae biomass production and faecal sludge reduction. Journal of Insects as Food and Feed 5: 201-213.
As I read it, my mind kept circling back to a question that has been discussed in detail around the world- what should we digest, or not, with BSF?
As expected many developed nations have taken the approach of limited use of BSF as a means to avoid health issues that could result from using the resulting products. On some level, I completely understand the mindset of government and research officials. However, my concern with this approach is that it has narrowed the scope of research being conducted. Most efforts that we see published are focused on producing materials that can be used in developed nations- and again, I completely understand.
However, such a culture has resulted in limited efforts in expanding the use of BSF for processing other wastes, such as animal waste (e.g., dairy, swine, poultry, aquaculture) or even fecal sludge from urban populations. I recognize researchers are at the mercy of funding agencies and what they want to see accomplished. Believe me, I have received a number of critical reviews of grants I have submitted that stated such efforts would result in producing products not approved for use in the USA (i.e., grant rejected). This expected (unfortunately) response serves as a major limitation in terms of, 1) finding out if the process works, 2) developing methods for ensuring its safety, and 3) diversifying the industry while protecting the environment, creating jobs, and saving lives.
So, with that said- I encourage everyone to read the abstract of the article or the full article if you have access....then consider tackling research projects outside the mainstream of our science... expand our industry.... create opportunities for nations that do not have the resources that others possess. Who knows, such efforts could even benefit industrialized nations?! (a bit of sarcasm)
In the end, congratulations to the authors on a job well done! I hope to read more about your research in the future.
Insects as Food & Feed in the News (not much this week)
CNN Jumping on Board the Insects as Food Train: A nice article on the production of ice cream with insects. I didn't realize it looked so good. I admit, I am an ice cream snob....I simply love it and I am particular with regards to my selection- but I think I would try this ice cream if I had a chance.
Jeffery K. Tomberlin, PhD, Gelato lover
Everyone in the BSF world is aware of its larvae being able to digest practically anything organic. Recognition of such ability has led to diverse studies to determine what exactly this insect can, and cannot, digest. Through a multitude of studies, the conclusion is there is little they cannot digest. In fact, an appealing aspect of this insect is its ability to digest animal waste.
Given the BSF larva can take waste products, such as dairy, swine, or poultry manure (to name a few) and convert it to protein with the remaining waste a potential fertilizer, its value to sustainable agriculture globally is tremendous.
While these findings indicate great potential, I encourage everyone to "pump the brakes" and take pause with regards to implementing this process specifically for recycling animal wastes.
Why you ask? Well, first, we have to recognize what regional regulations permit to be fed to BSF if they are to be used as animal feed. But, the second reason is far more important as it leads to the first being accomplished (i.e., government approval).
At this time, we do not know much about the quality assurance aspects of this process (i.e., feeding animal waste to BSF). This point is made very clear in the following study (please take the time to read this paper- if available to you) as it has some very important findings for everyone to consider.
Müller, A., S. Wiedmer, and M. Kurth. 2019. Risk evaluation of passive transmission of animal parasites by feeding of black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens) larvae and prepupae. Journal of Food Protection 82: 948-954.
Here are the major points from the publication:
1. Fecal parasites examined in the study survived the BSF process.
2. The parasites were able to survive digestion by BSF.
3. The parasites remained attached to the external surfaces of the BSF larvae.
4. Washing the larvae is not enough to remove all parasites from the external surface of BSF larvae.
What needs to be done (just a couple consideration):
1. Determine how processing the resulting larvae (e.g., boiling, freezing, drying) impacts parasite survival.
2. Continue to diversify the parasites examined.
3. Determine if pre-treatment of manure can assist with suppressing parasites.
4. Increase traceability throughout the world to ensure products produced are in fact safe.
Overall Thoughts: This study provides an extremely important contribution to the insects as food and feed sector. I applaud the authors on tackling such an important subject.
Insects as Food & Feed in the News....
1. National Geographic- They always put together great stories (and they include a nice video as well). While this one is not specifically insects as food and feed, I believe the topic of "sustainable agriculture" is something we all should keep in mind as related to what our industry does. I believe this point is why life cycle analysis studies play a crucial role in the insects as food and feed sector. We need to know the good as well as the bad in terms of what our industry does to the environment.
2. Insects are Packed with Antioxidants- A great overview of a study recently published indicating many insects that are used as food are high (5X than orange juice) in antioxidants, which is great for human health. There is a link to the actual publication as well. Too bad BSF weren't included in the study.
3. Black Soldier Fly as a Super Hero? Just in case you want to see an image of a BSF adult with a cape. A nice story highlighting a start-up in England and its focus on producing BSF.
Jeffery K. Tomberlin, PhD, Ready for Cooler Weather
Hello Everyone- Another week, another article to discuss with you!
Here is a great review on where we are presently with regards to mass producing insects (i.e., food and feed). What I like about this article (by my colleague and friend Christian Nansen, his student [Trevor] and others) is that it encourages individuals to, 1) not have tunnel vision with regards to the insects targeted for the food and feed sector, and 2) consider traditional routes for enhancing mass-production of the insect models currently implemented by the industry.
Fowles, T.M. & Nansen, C. Agron. Sustain. Dev. (2019) 39: 31. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13593-019-0577
I believe both of these points are worthy of greater discussion (especially point 2), especially considering scientists/industry are quick to apply genetic techniques (see question of the week below) to change the phenotype of an animal to secure the desired features.
As far as diversifying the pool of species currently used for the purposes of producing protein, I completely agree with the authors in terms of encouraging such efforts. Currently, the number of species truly mass produced for use in western culture is extremely limited. When I think about it, cricket, mealworm, and BSF appear to be the primary ones used.
But, as you all know, the diversity of arthropods existing currently on our planet is staggeringly high, and we probably only have a small portion of it identified. I suspect many of those waiting to be described offer great potential for such desired uses (i.e., waste conversion to protein). Not to go on a tangent, but I think this point supports initiatives by taxonomists to describe species around the world. If you ever needed cause to support a natural history museum- well, I think this reason alone would be a good start. Individuals in these museums are charged with cataloging diversity of a number of life forms including insects.
Furthermore, with regards to the species we do currently use, in many cases we do not understand their diversity at the sub-species or population level. Exploring such diversity could lead to the discovery of select populations that are far more efficient at converting waste to protein or handling diverse waste streams. If one were to think about it, following the path used used for animal husbandry with simple breeding programs charged with selecting for these traits. However, selection for a trait of interest could also result in the selection of negative traits as well.
QUESTION OF THE WEEK: What are your thoughts on using CRISPR-Cas9 technology to produce a "strain" of insect that results in the production of materials (e.g., higher protein, specific vitamins, development at specific temperatures, or to remove the need of sunlight to get BSF to mate) desired?
Insects as Food & Feed In the News....
Save the Lemurs- nice story about eating insects in Madagascar. The article has some amazing photographs and supports one of my previous points about diversifying the insects as food and feed industry.
Know the Other Side- you might find this article interesting as it is a counter story on the use of insects as food and feed. Amazing how things become political!
Maintaining a BSF colony that is proficient in digesting organic waste that can vary in terms of nutritional makeup as well as delivery rate (i.e., hard to predict in some instances when you will receive waste and at what amount) can be a challenge (discussion on selecting strains of BSF for optimal waste conversion and protein production will be discussed in next post).
As far as colony maintenance, there are a host of factors that impact output (i.e., eggs/day). Having a strong adult population is obvious; however, maintaining the adult population can be a challenge. One way to maximize adult numbers in your colony is to stagger your adult production. Typically, BSF producers are at the mercy of the weather and their colony (when working in a greenhouse or other outdoor facilities). However, maintaining indoor colonies (climate control) is also challenging as adult emergence patterns can vary. Basically, you have adults when they are available.
One study provides a method for building up a reserve adult population through delaying adult emergence. As most know, insects are diurnal (i.e., daytime activity), and photo-responsive, which means insects respond to the amount of light they receive each day. Throughout temperate regions of the world, seasonal changes result in varying amounts of daylight. This factor partly regulates the development cycle of many insects (including BSF) as such cues indicate weather conditions could be changing to be more hospitable for their development (i.e., spring) or detrimental (i.e., fall or winter). So, as one would expect as day lengthens, many insects will accelerate/complete development and emerge. And, the opposite happens during the fall and winter- insects develop slower or enter diapause (a form of hibernation).
Holmes, L. A., S. L. VanLaerhoven, J. K. Tomberlin, and C. Brent. 2017. Photophase duration affects immature black soldier fly (Diptera: Stratiomyidae) development. Environmental Entomology 46: 1439-1447.
1. Storing pupae at different light exposure periods impacts adult emergence patterns.
2. Placing prepupae/pupae in a completely dark environment can extend pupation time by almost double the time.
3. Find a balance- too much time in the pupal stage also increases mortality.
Things to Consider:
1. This study is for a population out of Texas, USA. If you are in a more northern climate, your population might be more sensitive to light duration.
2. We do not know the impact on egg production. While, the researchers in this study were able to extend development (potentially allowing the creation of a reserve), we do not know if such an energy investment by the larvae impacts egg production by resulting adults.
Insects as Food & Feed in the News....
Not much in the media this week- so I challenge you all to keep engaging the public. The more people learn about our industry, the faster it grows!
The Economist- Much of the same as far as general information on insect production. But, to be featured in such a high profile journal is a win for the industry as the readership is quite broad.
Washington Post- Another great location for discussion of insects as food and feed. The article focuses on two companies in Texas (EVO being one of them) as a means to discuss the BSF and its potential. Others are interviewed as well- Fluker Farms and EnviroFlight.
Jeffery K. Tomberlin, PhD, Introduced My Kids to 80s Rock this Summer
Individuals with over 25 years research experience with the black soldier fly. We are passionate about the science behind the black soldier fly and its ability to convert waste to protein.
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