CWEK is developing logistics, processing systems and products to enable large scale cultivation and usage of Tenebrio molitor (mealworm) protein and oil.
CWEK is optimising both the production and purification of insect-derived proteins and examining the functional properties of these proteins. This research will provide the potential to exploit these proteins for new and novel foods, feeds and protein supplements.
Fishmeal is currently, used as a conventional source of protein in aquaculture and poultry feed because it has a good balance of amino acid vitamin content, palatability and growth factors . However, it is necessary to search for unconventional protein sources to add to the animal feed diets due to the expensive price of fishmeal and sustainability of the industry. The annual global production of fishmeal is currently around 5 million tonnes, except in years when the fishing is disrupted by the warm waters of an El Niño.
The prospects for increasing the production of fishmeal and fish oil are very limited, since most of the underlying fisheries are now being well managed using the precautionary principles and quotas which are tightly set and monitored. Reliance upon other protein sources, such as soybean, will result in increased land clearing to access arable land and increased pressure on valuable water resources.
The utilisation of insects as a source of protein offer significant benefits to existing sources of protein used in animal feeds and functional foods. Insects being poikilotherms, do not use metabolic energy to maintain a constant body temperature as homeotherms do and can therefore invest more energy in growth, resulting in a higher feed conversion efficiency . Furthermore, the benefits of harnessing insects for protein production offer the following benefits :
When compared to convention livestock, insects cultivation requires less land and water, whilst emitting lower levels of greenhouse gases compared to conventional methods of protein production.
Briefer life cycle and greater biodiversity: Depending on dietary requirements, a wide range of insects are available for use as a source of protein. Furthermore, short insect life cycles would allow for the regular breeding of insects in large numbers.
Huge population and biomass: A short life cycle facilitates reduplication into a large population and biomass.
High reproduction rates: The high reproductive rate of insects makes them a good consistent source of protein.
Low breeding costs: Many insects do not require complex or expensive infrastructure for breeding.
Breeding is easy and uncomplicated: The breeding of insects can be controlled in a relatively simple manner without involving complicated infrastructure or expensive labour costs.
Insect protein is of good quality: Insect protein has been found to be of better nutritional quality than most proteins derived from grains.
Insects have better feed conversion efficiency than most other animals.
Fresh mealworm larvae typically contains about 15% fat and 20% protein. Protein levels increase to 60-65% after drying and defatting of the larvae. Numerous studies have investigated their content of minerals, vitamins, amino acids and fatty acids ,,. Mealworm protein has been successfully used to supplement existing meals use in both poultry and aquaculture production .
Figure 1. The mealworm (Tenebrio molitor) lifecycle
Approximately 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted each year, with it predominantly ending up in landfill. This is a huge waste resource which can be utilised as a potential feedstock for protein production. Due to regulation, this waste is generally not utilised in animal fed. This waste resource can be utilised, in a proper form, as a low cost feedstock substrate for use in the cultivation of insects .
Studies conducted by CWEK have identified optimal food for maximising insect growth. This research has proven the the potential improvement for sustainability of the food industry. In particular, both pre- and post-consumer food waste can be utilised for insect growth without any significant effects upon insect protein quality.
Additional studies identified that proximal amino acid analysis demonstrated good levels of essential amino acids and, in particular, branched chained amino acids. The presence of high levels of branched chained amino acids lends insect protein use in exercise recovery protein formulations.
Lipid analysis demonstrated the presence of significant quantities of unsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids and relatively low levels of saturated fatty acids.
CWEK has contracted Curtin University to optimise methods for the mass production of purified insect protein. This study will further examine the functional properties of isolated protein to best identify the functional use of the protein.
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