The worldwide growing demand for proteins and lipids cannot be met by the intensive use of agricultural land currently available. Insect mass cultures, e.g. of the black soldier fly, might provide a sustainable solution. Furthermore, the larvae of the black soldier fly produce bioactive substances, which could potentially be used for human and animal welfare.
The growing worldwide demand for proteins and lipids has led to the extension of agricultural land at the expense of valuable ecosystems like, for example, tropical rain forests. The production of proteins and lipids without the use of arable land is, therefore, an important goal.
In recent years, insect biotechnology has been extraordinarily successful. This is reflected not only in the intensity of research but also in the commercial potential that has become apparent from the increasing number of newly founded companies in this field.
The commercial potential of using insect products reflects the evolutionary success of insects. The black soldier fly, Hermetia illucens, illustrates this nicely. The insect is robust, survives under harsh conditions and is remarkably resistant to bacterial infections.
This makes mass cultures attractive as it is possible to raise the larvae with low quality feed and yet the feed conversion ratio is high. The production of proteins and lipids from insects is ecologically desirable as it can be carried out using only secondary resources and hence contributes to the conservation of valuable ecosystems.
In their research article from the journal Zeitschrift für Naturforschung C, the authors established a small experimental production facility for H. illucens larvae using excess energy from a biogas facility and organic waste as larval feed in order to set up a closed-circuit production unit (Fig. 2). Legal restrictions in the EU concerning the use of animal proteins for the feed of livestock limit the large-scale production of insect raw material at present.
The authors showed strong effects of aqueous larval extracts on microbial biofilms and demonstrated the induction of the cell envelope stress response of Bacillus subtilis. Further experiments regarding the purification of the crude larval extracts are currently in progress.
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