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Flies: an alternative protein source in animal food

The University of Alicante participates in FlyHigh project, aimed at improving technology to obtain large amounts of biomass from dipteran insects


Mosca2Alicante. 11 January 2016

The University of Alicante is participating in a research project whose goal is to improve technology to obtain large amounts of biomass from dipteran insects (flies), which can be used as an alternative source of proteins in animal food. This challenging project is funded by the European Union (H2020 initiative) and carried out within the framework of FlyHigh project. Basic and applied research is conducted by Spanish company Bioflytech, South African company Agriprotein, and the University of Alicante (UA), the University of Helsinki (Finland) and the University of Novi Sad (Serbia). 

According to Santos Rojo, director of UA's Department of Environmental Science and Natural Resources and project coordinator, FlyHigh focuses, among other things, on mass, controlled production of several fly species, which is achieved by means of a detailed analysis of their biological cycle. 

In combination with biodiversity and insect-plant interaction studies, the project aims at achieving technological development to produce insect flour, to be used in animal food. 

"Our objective is to use rotifers to obtain significant data on artificial, mass breeding of several dipteran species", says Rojo. Mass insect production on an industrial scale is one of the new production niches that are expected to develop exponentially in the next few years. 

"Several groups of dipteran insects (flies) are the link between a series of research activities and technology transfer initiatives carried out by FlyHigh, and one of our project's goals is to produce thousands of kilograms of larval biomass on a monthly or even weekly basis", he points out. However, in order to control industrial production in a way that is similar to what is done in stockbreeding and farming, it is essential to know the key factors affecting their biological cycle. 

When it comes to other insects, Rojo states that flies have a shorter life cycle (just a few weeks) and can feed from a wide range of animal and vegetal subproducts and remainders. 

Interestingly enough, both technology-based company Bioflytech and Agriprotein specialise in breeding said insects to be then used in subproduct valorisation and waste transformation, alternative protein source creation and other innovative uses. 

Rojo emphasises how much technology has evolved in this specific field over the last decade, despite the fact that insect flour is not yet competitive in comparison with fish and soy flour, which are currently basic ingredients in animal food. In his own words, "we think insect flour will become more competitive in the next five years, since production is sustainable both from the environmental point of view and from the financial perspective, and is opening up a new production sector, which will ultimately result in job creation". 

In his opinion, traditional protein sources used in animal food are on the verge of overexploitation, or, in some cases, already overexploited. He points out how insects are already a part of many animals' (chicken, freshwater fish...) natural diet, and therefore, surprising as this may be, it is actually not new at all. 

FlyHigh is also involved in artificially breeding several dipteran species to be used in pollination (as an alternative to bees). "Some dipteran species have great potential as an alternative or a complement to bees in pollination, which might help alleviate the crisis that is now affecting this sector, and ultimately allow for crop pollination at a lower cost", says the project coordinator. 

The project also analyses the evolutionary relation between fly species associated with South-African and Mediterranean bulbous plants. These plants have a high economic importance, given that many species are sold worldwide for decoration purposes. Thanks to its biodiversity, South Africa is one of the main export centres, and so Rojo explains that this biodiversity hotspot, together with the evolutionary relations between the main plant families and groups, will be analysed in the project.

FlyHigh is a three-year project with a 450,000 euro budget. Once it is completed, an international workshop and conference will be held in Spain in order to present the results obtained in applied and basic research, with a special emphasis on the use of fly larvae biomass in animal food.  


This project also studies the biology and evolution of the relation between other fly species and bulbous plants such as this one


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