Microbial degradation of oil palm empty fruit bunches as feed for insect larvae

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: Biology

Abstract

Food security is a global challenge and various alternative protein approaches are being pursued to fill the gap in demand for animal feed. Our CASE partner, Fera are developing innovative for the mass rearing of insects to provide a safe source of protein for mono-gastric farmed animals. The Black Soldier Fly (BSF) is a saprophagous insect, i.e. feeds on decaying organic matter, is a non-pest, and does not carry and transmissible diseases. Its larvae are, therefore, ideal to farm as animal feed. This project aims to transform existing initiatives through the exploitation of untapped abundant agricultural residues as feed for rearing BSF larvae for animal feed. Decomposing crop residues, such oil palm residues, are potentially an excellent food source for BSF larvae, which are thought to mainly feed on the microbes degrading the lignocellulose in the plant cell walls.

The project builds on a considerable body of prior work where we have been using 'omics techniques to identify new lignocellulose processing systems from composting microbial communities. The goal is to use these 'omics techniques to optimise microbial community degradation and harness their metabolic functionality for efficient production of digested crop residues as feed for insects. Specifically:
1. To discover highly performing microbial compost communities for biomass digestion
2. To characterise the community-level metabolism and identify the essential species and secreted proteins required for efficient lignocellulose deconstruction
3. To characterise the novel enzyme activities that enhance lignocellulose degradation for
biorefining applications
4. Evaluate digested crop residues as feed for BSF larvae.

In parallel, Fera will be conducting underpinning research to improve understanding of the nutritional requirements of BSF larvae for optimal conversion of crop residues to insect biomass.

Publications

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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
BB/M011151/1 30/09/2015 29/09/2023
2117715 Studentship BB/M011151/1 30/09/2018 29/09/2022 Alexander Thomas Setchfield
 
Description Black Soldier Fly Larvae (BSFL) cannot grow on untreated (lignocellulosic) crop residues. 'Proof of Concept' data shows that the technology being developed during my PhD enables BSFL growth on these biomasses, as hypothesised at the outset. This technology will now be optimised and commercially translated through a potential university spin-out company.
Exploitation Route After winning the Global Biobased Businessplan (G-BiB) competition in February 2021, we (Prof. Neil Bruce, Dr Daniel Leadbeater, Dr Tom North and I) are now seeking to commercialise this research through a potential university spin-out company. We have an ongoing liaison with the University of York's commercialisation team to explore IP opportunities (e.g. patents), and have received extensive interest from venture capitalists.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

URL https://www.york.ac.uk/biology/news-events/other/2021/bio-based-businessplan-win/
 
Description Global Biobased Businessplan (G-BiB) Competition - 2020/2021. Dr Daniel Leadbeater (post-doctoral colleague) and I entered the G-BiB Competition with academic mentorship from Prof. Neil Bruce (my PhD supervisor). The G-BiB Competition challenged university researchers from the UK, Germany and Finland to develop an innovative business plan based around the sustainable production of a bio-renewable product. We formed a business plan around my PhD research (award ref. 2117715) and won both the UK national semi-final on 13th January 2021 and international final on 17th February 2021. As a prize, we will now access a business mentoring programme by High-Tech Gründerfonds (German venture capital investor for innovative technologies in fields such as the life sciences and chemistry). Through this, we will prepare for a pitch later in the year with the hope of securing significant investment. In parallel, we are exploring the possibility of forming a university spin-out company to commercialise this research to bring about economic and societal impact (i.e. sustainably producing an alternative protein source (Black Soldier Fly Larvae) to meet the ever-growing protein deficit). 3-Minute Thesis (3MT) Competition - 2020. Competed in the University of York's 3MT Competition and was selected as one of 11 finalists. My 3MT talk aimed to succinctly and clearly communicate my research to a non-specialist audience, in order to raise public awareness and acceptance of insects as an alternative protein source. Global Food Security (GFS) Speak Up for Food Security Competition - 2020. Selected as one of 12 delegates at the 2-day storytelling masterclass in London (UK). This provided training on how best to communicate complex research to non-specialist audiences through storytelling to create societal impact.
First Year Of Impact 2021
Impact Types Societal,Economic

 
Description Dr Christopher Lancefield (University of St. Andrews) 
Organisation St. Andrews University
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Obtained a range of fungal strains from Dr Christopher Lancefield to be used in growth experiments on lignocellulosic crop residues.
Collaborator Contribution Dr Christopher Lancefield has performed NMR analysis on various samples to provide a greater depth of understanding around fungal metabolism of lignocellulose.
Impact Deeper understanding around fungal metabolism of lignocellulose, and how that relates to the growth of Black Soldier Fly Larvae when fed on lignocellulosic crop residues.
Start Year 2019
 
Description Fera Science Ltd. 
Organisation Fera Science Limited
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution I have performed experiments (Black Soldier Fly Larvae feeding trials) that are mutually beneficial to both parties (i.e. UoY and Fera Science).
Collaborator Contribution Fera Science have provided the facilities to carry out the above experiments (Black Soldier Fly Larvae feeding trials), as well as invaluable training and support (including a financial contibution of £6800 intended for consumables).
Impact Black Soldier Fly Larvae cannot grow on untreated (lignocellulosic) crop residues. The technology being developed during my PhD enables their growth on these biomasses.
Start Year 2018
 
Description Universiti Teknologi Malaysia - NFIS grant 
Organisation University of Technology, Malaysia
Country Malaysia 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Experimental data obtained during my PhD re: the development of a technology to enable (lignocellulosic) crop residues to be used as feed for Black Soldier Fly Larvae.
Collaborator Contribution Experimental data (incl. social science) re: the development of a technology to enable (lignocellulosic) crop residues to be used as feed for Black Soldier Fly Larvae.
Impact Black Soldier Fly Larvae cannot grow on untreated (lignocellulosic) crop residues. The technology being jointly developed through this partnership enables their growth on these biomasses.
Start Year 2020
 
Description 3-Minute Thesis (3MT) Competition 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Competed in the University of York's 3MT Competition and was selected as one of 11 finalists. My 3MT talk aimed to succinctly and clearly communicate my research to a non-specialist audience, in order to raise public awareness and acceptance of insects as an alternative protein source.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.york.ac.uk/research/events/three-minute-thesis/2020/
 
Description EatBugs! Outreach at various events (e.g. YorNight 2020) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I co-run EatBugs! Outreach which promotes the sustainability of insects as a protein source (AKA entomophagy) to the general public by offering dried house cricket tasters. We attend a variety of national events (e.g. York Insect Festival 2019, York Researchers' Night 2020 attended by over 3,000 people).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/events/yornight/2020/activities/eat-bugs/
 
Description Global Biobased Businessplan (G-BiB) Competition 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Dr Daniel Leadbeater (post-doctoral colleague) and I entered the G-BiB Competition with academic mentorship from Prof. Neil Bruce (my PhD supervisor). The G-BiB Competition challenged university researchers from the UK, Germany and Finland to develop an innovative business plan based around the sustainable production of a bio-renewable product. We formed a business plan around my PhD research (award ref. 2117715) and won both the UK national semi-final on 13th January 2021 and international final on 17th February 2021. As a prize, we will now access a business mentoring programme by High-Tech Gründerfonds (German venture capital investor for innovative technologies in fields such as the life sciences and chemistry). Through this, we will prepare for a pitch later in the year with the hope of securing significant investment. In parallel, we are exploring the possibility of forming a university spin-out company to commercialise this research to bring about economic and societal impact (i.e. sustainably producing an alternative protein source (Black Soldier Fly Larvae) to meet the ever-growing protein deficit).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020,2021
URL https://www.york.ac.uk/biology/news-events/other/2021/bio-based-businessplan-win/
 
Description Global Food Security (GFS) Speak Up for Food Security Competition 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Selected as one of 12 delegates at the 2-day storytelling masterclass in London (UK). This provided training on how best to communicate complex research to non-specialist audiences through storytelling to create societal impact.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020