A joint project between that Dutch insect producer and Hendrix Genetics, the companies said their program is the first to demonstrate that black solider fly (BSF) genetically selected for increased larval weight perform better than standard BSF larvae in a large-scale production facility.
The project was first announced in 2018. Two years into the running of the program, the partners initiated a large-scale and fully automated production trial at Protix’s production facilities in Bergen op Zoom, in the Netherlands.
The results were 39% heavier larvae, 32% more protein harvested per facility and 21% more fat harvested per facility, said Protix. Based on that outcome, the annual improvement in production is estimated at 20%, it added.
“So more can be produced with the same energy. Making insect protein even more attractive from a sustainability perspective.”
Eric Schmitt, director of R&D at Protix, told FeedNavigator that, at the outset, the team wanted to have clear evidence that it was possible to improve BSF larvae through selection and ensure long-term progress. “We wanted to learn how to do it efficiently, so we could roll out a major program.”
What were the desirable qualities of the BSF that the program selected for? “We started by selecting for animals that grow faster and get bigger.”
Asked whether the program fully realized its goals, Schmitt said: “Yes, not only were we able to show that selection is possible, we have already achieved significant improvement.”
Protix and Hendrix Genetics are continuing to leverage the deep insights generated to scale up the selection program. "We think that, over the next three years, we can make transformational changes in the way that BSF selection is conducted for industrial applications.”
And it is quite remarkable, noted Schmitt, that while the partners are already reporting on the successful outcomes of their alliance, other industry initiatives in relation to insect genetic improvement are only just getting started. “This puts us about four years ahead of the competition.”
Protix owns the newly developed line. Will the BSF genetically selected for increased larval weight be sold to other insect ingredient producers?
“Protix believes that the improved animals offer the industry an important tool to improve the economics and sustainability of production. We are already selling unimproved animals commercially and are now investigating ways that we could provide enhanced animals to clients while protecting our IP."
Efficiencies in waste management
The implications of the program go beyond BSF production, added Schmitt.
“Since BSF can use low grade organic materials as feed and return them directly to the food chain, they have the potential to considerably improve efficiencies in waste management, sustainability of animal feed and food, plant nutrition, and food security.
“We have shown that, with genetic improvement, BSF can be considerably more efficient, which means that they will be better able to play that supporting role for other industry players looking for sustainable alternatives. In addition, the beauty of selective breeding is its cumulative nature, where, year after year, we will see further improvements. So, this is only the beginning.”
The results of the selective breeding project were first presented at Insecta2021.