MSU researchers study insects to help globally improve human diets

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LANSING, Mich. (WLNS)— The world’s population expects to increase over time. This means our food production, and the health of our livestock should correlate with the population increase to help provide healthier diets to individuals all around the world.

Michigan State University’s Dr. Mark Benbow is an associate professor for the Department Of Entomology. Currently, he’s working with a team of researchers overseas and in Michigan to help create a healthier world by cleaning up the diets of animals. They are exploring the use of farming black soldier flies to add protein to their diets. Then, feed these insects to livestock where humans could eventually eat the animals and in time improve their diets.

“We’re evaluating the black soldier fly, and how it can primarily use organic matter and waste from markets or restaurants that are leftover,” Dr. Benbow stated, “essentially they use it for a feed and convert it into their own body mass those larvae are then dried…Sometimes fed alive to chickens.”

The research is in its early stages where they are farming the insects, studying their lifespan, and their diets.

The Michigan State University research team has paired up with African researchers through their Alliance for African Partnership, where they have also partnered with Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources in Malawi, and the University of Malawi, College of Medicine.

“At Michigan state, we’re evaluating what kind of organic forces is best and produce the best black soldier fly product,” Dr. Mark Benbow said, “and then as we learn more about that we want to take some of that back to Africa make recommendations.”

Dr. Jennifer L. Pechal has worked on previous projects in Africa for the last five years. Dr. Pechal is also a part of the research team where she says the first step is to collect the black soldier flies. Dr. Pechal states the best way is to place decomposing material in a hot environment.

“These flies really thrive in environments people find to be repulsive so these can be stinky microbial related, smelly any type of gross habitat,” Dr. Pechal said.

The hot environment could be feces or decomposing kitchen waste. Dr. Pechal says that’s where the flies usually lay their eggs. She says once this step occurs researchers can create a black soldier fly colony to farm and feed their livestock.

According to MSU’s College of Agriculture & Natural Resources Department of Entomology, once larvae leave their food resource, they can be harvested, dried, and milled for use as feedstock for livestock, poultry, and aquaculture.

“We rear them in a growth chamber that way control we can control all of the parameters of the environment,” Dr. Pechal exclaimed, “such as the heat, humidity, and time.”

Michigan State University researchers are harvesting the black soldier fly colonies in Michigan and overseas. They are collaborating as a team and looking at the way the insect develops. Researchers say long-term the next step would be to study the animal who eat them.

Dr. Benbow and dr. Pechal have also stated that black soldier flies have been studied in labs where they’re shown to reduce bacteria that could cause other problems in an animal’s immune system like, e-Coli and salmonella.

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