University of Innsbruck

Insect biotechnology

Recently, Black Soldier Fly (BSF; Hermetia illucens) larvae have received increased scientific attention for their potential in circular waste management. In particular, two environmental concerns were addressed – waste management and protein supplementation. By recycling a vast array of organic wastes with one of the highest feed-conversion ratios and growth rates known among insects, BSF larvae are presumed to be true biodegradation workhorses. They digest, aerate, and dry the organic waste and are capable of reducing potentially harmful bacteria. Full-grown BSF larvae have high contents in proteins (37 − 63% of dry matter) and fat (7 − 39% of dry matter) making them a high-quality and potentially profitable feedstuff for livestock production. However, the metabolic competences of an organism in terms of substrate degradation are tightly connected to the structure and composition of its gut microbiota and should be robust against extrinsic disturbances.

The researchers of our interdisciplinary BSF team unites both microbiologists and ecologists with zoological background, including national and international partners. We have set up a steady and stable BSF laboratory population here at our institute and optimized breeding and oviposition conditions for BSF in small-scale artificial habitats. Results of this optimization process are published open access in Heussler et al. (2018).  In feeding experiments, we investigated the impact of different diets (eg. chickenfeed, grass cuttings, fruits and vegetables) on the microbial community composition in the gut of developing larvae. Results of these studies will be published soon.

The ongoing Top Citizen Science project “Six-legged livestock: Rearing Black Soldier Fly on communal “Biowaste”” is proposed as a meaningful complement to university research.  Citizens, who do not primarily work in the fields of science will be supported by scientists and experts, which in turn will enable us to yield a deep pool of data. By conducting feeding experiments with BSF larvae at their homes using their daily incurring communal “biowaste”, people will get a deeper understanding of the insect’s life-cycle and development. At the same time, by getting in touch with edible insects, participants will lose their prejudice. This, however, will increase the public acceptance of insect based nutrition.