Enzymes in insect larvae transform toxins

March 8, 2024

The larvae of the black soldier fly contain enzymes that can convert toxic substances. This is evident from Kelly Niermans' PhD research. She will receive her PhD from Wageningen University & Research on 12 March 2024. The title of her dissertation is: 'Unraveling mycotoxin biotransformation by the black soldier fly and house fly'.

Insect larvae are increasingly seen in Europe as promising alternatives for animal feed. It is possible to breed these insects on organic residual flows and convert them into high-quality proteins and other nutrients. But because organic residual flows can contain natural harmful substances, research has been done to determine whether these also end up in insects.

Converted to less harmful substances

Niermans' research was carried out at the entomology department of Wageningen University & Research and Wageningen Food Safety Research and focused on the possible transfer of mycotoxins from the residual flows to the larvae of the house fly and the black soldier fly. Mycotoxins are natural toxins made by fungi and can occur in all kinds of raw materials, such as grains and nuts. The insects were grown on a culture medium made from residual flows contaminated with mycotoxins. What turned out was that various enzymes in the larvae effectively converted some harmful substances into less harmful substances. A conversion also took place to substances that could not be identified. Further research should provide more clarity on this.

Other residual flows

The results of Niermans' research are promising when it comes to the use of insect larvae in animal feed, even if they have been grown on contaminated growing soil. Moreover, it is interesting to also conduct research with insects grown on other, currently unsuitable, residual flows, such as supermarket residual flows or kitchen waste.