More insect consumption could help the environment even more.

Insects have been tout­ed as a food of the future, par­tic­u­lar­ly because of their sus­tain­abil­i­ty benefits.

An excel­lent source of pro­tein, their pro­duc­tion requires far few­er resources than tra­di­tion­al agri­cul­ture. Give your meal­worm farm about 2 kilo­grams (4.4 pounds) of feed and you’ll get one kilo­gram of edi­ble pro­tein; with beef, it would take 10 times as much space and pro­duce 18 times as much green­house gas.

In a new opin­ion piece, sci­en­tists have pro­posed that switch­ing to a diet that incor­po­rates insects could also have addi­tion­al pos­i­tive effects on the way we farm.

In the arti­cle, the authors dis­cuss the use of waste cre­at­ed by insect pro­duc­tion for food and feed, and the ben­e­fits the waste could have on grow­ing sus­tain­able crops.

Insect farm byprod­ucts could poten­tial­ly pro­vide farm­ers with an organ­ic soil addi­tive that pro­motes plant growth and impacts the soil micro­bio­me in a way that can pro­mote plant health.

“A new organ­ic soil amend­ment is emerg­ing from the pro­duc­tion of a new source of ani­mal pro­tein, name­ly the pro­duc­tion of insects such as the yel­low meal­worm (Tene­brio moli­tor), small meal­worm (Alphi­to­bius dia­per­i­nus), house crick­et (Acheta domes­ti­cus), sol­dier fly (Her­me­tia illu­cens), or house fly (Mus­ca domes­ti­ca) for food and feed,” the authors of the paper state.

The pro­duc­tion of insects for food and feed gen­er­al­ly results in two by-prod­ucts: exu­vi­ae and insect exc­re­ta. Exu­vi­ae are the exoskele­tons left behind after insects molt, and exc­re­ta are essen­tial­ly insect poop and uneat­en insect food; both byprod­ucts could become poten­tial alter­na­tives to con­ven­tion­al fer­til­iz­ers and pesticides.

“An impor­tant com­po­nent of insect exu­vi­ae is chitin, a high mol­e­c­u­lar weight amino sug­ar poly­sac­cha­ride that is also present in the fun­gal cell walls and exoskele­ton of many crus­taceans. Soil amend­ments con­tain­ing chitin have been shown to pro­mote plant growth,” the authors note.

“How­ev­er, there is a set of bac­te­ria that can metab­o­lize chitin, and these microbes help plants be more resis­tant to dis­eases and pests,” says Mar­cel Dicke, a plant biol­o­gist at Wagenin­gen Uni­ver­si­ty in the Nether­lands and co-author of the study. paper.

“When exu­vi­ae are added to the soil, pop­u­la­tions of these ben­e­fi­cial bac­te­ria increase.”

In addi­tion, adding insect exc­re­ta to the soil can pro­mote plant growth because insect exc­re­ta are rich in nitro­gen, a nutri­ent that is cru­cial for plant growth but can be scarce in most soils. Nitro­gen is often added to soils in the form of syn­thet­ic fertilizer.

“Sim­i­lar­ly, adding insect excre­ment to soil has been shown to pro­vide nitro­gen and oth­er nutri­ents to plants that increase their bio­mass and nutri­tion­al con­tent. Chitin and insect exc­re­ta amend­ments impact the com­po­si­tion of the soil micro­bio­me, which may be an impor­tant fac­tor in pro­mot­ing plant growth and health,” the paper’s authors state.

The researchers also men­tion the poten­tial of exu­vi­ae as a means of pest con­trol. Ben­e­fi­cial soil bac­te­ria that metab­o­lize chitin from exu­vi­ae may not only stim­u­late plant growth, but also cause changes in plant phys­i­ol­o­gy, attract­ing mutu­al­is­tic insects.

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