A certified B Corp company and producer of mealworm-based ingredients, Ÿnsect, along with other parties, has launched Ÿnfabre, a genomic selection program to enhance insect breeding.
Thomas Lefebvre, R&D manager at biotech innovation, Ÿnsect, told FeedNavigator the objective of the project is to develop biotechnological tools, industrial processes and computer models for the creation of a pioneering unit for the selection and multiplication of high-performance and resilient insect lines. The variety to be studied is the Tenebrio Molitor mealworm.
The project, which is backed by funding of €4.3m from public investment bank, Bpi France, is looking to develop a multi-criteria approach with selection focused on four traits of complementary, agronomic interest, namely growth, fertility, food conversion and disease resistance, he said.
Europe is a pioneer in the field of insect protein and fat production and France has been particularly innovative in this respect.
Ÿnsect, itself, uses proprietary technology covered by 341 patents across 41 patent families, to produce mealworms on vertical farms. It runs two production sites, one in Dole, France (commissioned 2016), one in the Netherlands (2017), and a third site, which it claims is the world's largest vertical farm, in Amiens in France, is currently under construction.
Other insect protein companies have been developing R&D programs for the genetic improvement of their stock. In 2018, the Dutch insect protein pioneer, Protix, announced such a partnership with Hendrix Genetics. In that context, Lefebvre said for innovators in this field to stay ahead and gain a strategic and competitive advantage, it is essential to ensure ownership of the best genetic lines, to improve them through selective breeding, and thus enable technological and productive leaps.
Ÿnfabre will build on the various genetics focused projects that Ÿnsect has already run, with the company outlining how, in one program, through selection, it was able to identify a strain of Buffalo worm allowing growth that is 25% faster than that of the original strain.
Besides Ÿnsect, other members of the consortium are Aprex Solutions, which is bringing its expertise in AI driven digital analysis and vision technology to the project, Cea-Genoscope, which will share its expertise in the sequencing and genetics of the Tenebrio Molitor mealworm, and Thermo Fisher Scientific, which will provide support for high-throughput sequencing and genotyping for industrial applications.
Eventually, units for the selection and multiplication of high-performance and resilient insect lines would be set up in France, with the first scheduled to be operational in 2026.
"These Ÿnfabre units would be owned by Ÿnsect, they would deliver the new lines to our vertical farms and mealworm producers," commented Lefebvre.
Each unit would potentially be able to supply breeding insects to five vertical farms, with the idea of increasing each farm's productivity by over 15%, he added.
Ÿnfabre has the potential to help strengthen the leadership of France and Ÿnsect in insect breeding even as global competition is intensifying, said Ÿnsect’s CEO, Antoine Hubert, weighing in on the benefits of the research initiative.