Tag Archives: Insects

Maggot burgers can help to solve world hunger

Fancy maggot burgers for dinner? Eating animals and plants which revolt many of us could cut hunger caused by climate change.

LONDON, 14 June, 2021 − A diet of maggot burgers, green slime and seaweed may not appeal to most people, but scientists say it will be essential if the world is to avoid widespread malnutrition.

These “novel foods”, as the researchers beguilingly call them, may sound disgusting to some cultures, but the idea behind them is strictly serious. It does not recommend eating the ingredients raw, or even cooked, but processed into more familiar foods.

It has been developed by a team at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) at the University of Cambridge, UK, who accept that knowing what a recipe contains is a potential barrier to novel foods, so “consideration must be given to (people’s) gastronomic preferences.” Their research is published in the journal Nature Food.

One way to sidestep the problem of repugnance could be to make pasta, burgers, energy bars and similar foods to look and taste just as they always do, while containing insect larvae or micro- and macro-algae.

“Foods like sugar kelp, flies, mealworms and single-celled algae such as chlorella, have the potential to provide healthy, risk-resilient diets that can address malnutrition around the world,” said Dr Asaf Tzachor, first author of the report.

Millions at risk

“Our current food system is vulnerable. It’s exposed to a litany of risks − floods and frosts, droughts and dry spells, pathogens and parasites − which marginal improvements in productivity won’t change. To future-proof our food supply we need to integrate completely new ways of farming into the current system.”

The team says the recent shock of the Covid-19 pandemic, coupled with wildfires and droughts in North America, outbreaks of African swine fever affecting pigs in Asia and Europe, and swarms of desert locusts in East Africa, has shown how vulnerable the world’s harvests and distribution networks are to events beyond human control – and how increasing millions of people will suffer unless we adopt novel foods. The problem will only grow as climate heating intensifies.

These new foods can be grown in controlled environments in huge quantities almost anywhere, because they are not weather-dependent. This means they could be produced where malnutrition is already prevalent, improving the diet of children who suffer stunted growth.

Currently two billion people endure food insecurity, with 690 million more undernourished, among them 340 million children fed a poor diet.

Algae, seaweed and the larvae of soldier flies, mealworms and houseflies can be grown in closed environments in containers stacked one on another. Although each species has slightly different needs insect and algae farms, once established, could use multiple containers and automatic systems. They would also offer the added benefit of using organic waste as a food stock for both flies and algae.

“Our current food system is vulnerable. It’s exposed to a litany of risks”

They would avoid the problems of adverse weather suffered by other farming systems, and would eliminate food poisoning like salmonella. Proper management would let growers adjust production to meet changing demand.

One other advantage is that these systems could operate in any climate, so could be used in parts of the world where the food was to be consumed, cutting down the need for long supply chains. This would be particularly important in places like the Pacific islands where, the researchers say, “feeble agriculture and consumption of nutrient-poor foods contribute to stunting in children, and iron-deficiency anaemia in women of reproductive age.”

However, even though these new systems do not depend on weather or even light, they do need other stable conditions, particularly good electricity supplies. So it would be important to make sure that the novel food factories were set up in places where management was protected from sudden outside shocks and interruptions of supply. They would also have to be shielded from potential contamination.

The researchers urge “scientists, engineers, investors and policymakers to consider future foods as a malnutrition mitigation pathway.” Catherine Richards, a doctoral researcher at CSER, said: “Advances in technology open up many possibilities for alternative food supply systems that are more risk-resilient, and can efficiently supply sustainable nutrition to billions of people.

“The coronavirus pandemic is just one example of increasing threats to our globalised food system. Diversifying our diet with these future foods will be important in achieving food security for all.” − Climate News Network

Fancy maggot burgers for dinner? Eating animals and plants which revolt many of us could cut hunger caused by climate change.

LONDON, 14 June, 2021 − A diet of maggot burgers, green slime and seaweed may not appeal to most people, but scientists say it will be essential if the world is to avoid widespread malnutrition.

These “novel foods”, as the researchers beguilingly call them, may sound disgusting to some cultures, but the idea behind them is strictly serious. It does not recommend eating the ingredients raw, or even cooked, but processed into more familiar foods.

It has been developed by a team at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) at the University of Cambridge, UK, who accept that knowing what a recipe contains is a potential barrier to novel foods, so “consideration must be given to (people’s) gastronomic preferences.” Their research is published in the journal Nature Food.

One way to sidestep the problem of repugnance could be to make pasta, burgers, energy bars and similar foods to look and taste just as they always do, while containing insect larvae or micro- and macro-algae.

“Foods like sugar kelp, flies, mealworms and single-celled algae such as chlorella, have the potential to provide healthy, risk-resilient diets that can address malnutrition around the world,” said Dr Asaf Tzachor, first author of the report.

Millions at risk

“Our current food system is vulnerable. It’s exposed to a litany of risks − floods and frosts, droughts and dry spells, pathogens and parasites − which marginal improvements in productivity won’t change. To future-proof our food supply we need to integrate completely new ways of farming into the current system.”

The team says the recent shock of the Covid-19 pandemic, coupled with wildfires and droughts in North America, outbreaks of African swine fever affecting pigs in Asia and Europe, and swarms of desert locusts in East Africa, has shown how vulnerable the world’s harvests and distribution networks are to events beyond human control – and how increasing millions of people will suffer unless we adopt novel foods. The problem will only grow as climate heating intensifies.

These new foods can be grown in controlled environments in huge quantities almost anywhere, because they are not weather-dependent. This means they could be produced where malnutrition is already prevalent, improving the diet of children who suffer stunted growth.

Currently two billion people endure food insecurity, with 690 million more undernourished, among them 340 million children fed a poor diet.

Algae, seaweed and the larvae of soldier flies, mealworms and houseflies can be grown in closed environments in containers stacked one on another. Although each species has slightly different needs insect and algae farms, once established, could use multiple containers and automatic systems. They would also offer the added benefit of using organic waste as a food stock for both flies and algae.

“Our current food system is vulnerable. It’s exposed to a litany of risks”

They would avoid the problems of adverse weather suffered by other farming systems, and would eliminate food poisoning like salmonella. Proper management would let growers adjust production to meet changing demand.

One other advantage is that these systems could operate in any climate, so could be used in parts of the world where the food was to be consumed, cutting down the need for long supply chains. This would be particularly important in places like the Pacific islands where, the researchers say, “feeble agriculture and consumption of nutrient-poor foods contribute to stunting in children, and iron-deficiency anaemia in women of reproductive age.”

However, even though these new systems do not depend on weather or even light, they do need other stable conditions, particularly good electricity supplies. So it would be important to make sure that the novel food factories were set up in places where management was protected from sudden outside shocks and interruptions of supply. They would also have to be shielded from potential contamination.

The researchers urge “scientists, engineers, investors and policymakers to consider future foods as a malnutrition mitigation pathway.” Catherine Richards, a doctoral researcher at CSER, said: “Advances in technology open up many possibilities for alternative food supply systems that are more risk-resilient, and can efficiently supply sustainable nutrition to billions of people.

“The coronavirus pandemic is just one example of increasing threats to our globalised food system. Diversifying our diet with these future foods will be important in achieving food security for all.” − Climate News Network

Threats to the insect world are growing

The insect world is dwindling. By 2100, half of all insects could be gone. But there could be gainers too.

LONDON, 30 April, 2020 − The butterflies are quietly flying away, the beetles are buzzing off, and the insect world is shrinking. The Earth’s  land-based insects are in steady decline, their numbers falling by around a quarter every three decades.

And although there could be a whole world of reasons for the global loss of a vital class of animals, European scientists have pinpointed at least one, in one location.

Insect food plants are being lost in the Swiss canton of Zurich, and with them, many of the hoverflies, bumblebees, bees and butterflies that depend on them.

Scientists from Germany and Russia report in the journal Science that they examined the bigger story told by data from 166 surveys of insects and arachnids – that is, not just flies but spiders too – across 1,676 sites worldwide, over periods from 1925 to 2018, and many of them of around 20 years.

Largely missed

They found that those insects that based their lives on land rather than water were slipping away at an average of 0.92% per year. “0.92% might not sound like much, but in fact it means 24% fewer insects in 30 years’ time and 50% fewer over 75 years,” said Roel van Klink of the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research and based at the University of Leipzig.

“Insect declines happen in a quiet way and we don’t take much notice from one year to the next. It’s like going back to the place where you grew up. It’s only because you haven’t been there for years that you suddenly realise how much has changed, and all too often not for the better.”

He is not the first to draw attention to insect loss: other groups have warned of dramatic instances of decline and imminent extinction, along with the changes in insect populations and the disappearance of the habitat on which so many species depend.

But the researchers found the decline wasn’t uniform. Those insects – midges and mayflies, for example – that are essentially aquatic were actually increasing in number, on average by more than 1% a year. Flying insects overall however are in decline, and ground-dwellers and grassland insects too are slowly losing the battle for survival, while the numbers of insects in the woodland treetops remain about the same.

“Insect declines happen in a quiet way and we don’t take much notice from one year to the next”

Insect declines in Europe and the US West and Midwest were marked, but those insects that live for part of their lives in water in northern Europe and the western US showed a 38% increase over 30 years: this may reflect national and international attempts to limit pollution of the waterways. In both decline and revival, the scientists at work see the impact of human handling of natural habitat.

“Insect populations are like logs of wood that are pushed under water,” Dr van Klink said. “They want to come up while we keep pushing them down. But we can reduce the pressure so they rise again.

“The freshwater insects have shown us this is possible. It’s just not always easy to identify the causes of declines, and thus the most effective measures to reverse them. And these may also differ between locations.”

But within a day of the publication of the Science analysis, German and Swiss scientists had identified the cause of decline in one closely-observed area. They report in the journal Ecological Applications that over the past century there had been an overall decline in wild food plants for all kinds of insects in the Zurich canton.

Urban spread

Wetlands had shrunk by around 90%, the cities and towns had expanded, intensive farming had meant the loss of meadows and farmland habitats.
With help from 250 volunteers, researchers had made detailed studies of the 1,719 seed plant species in 1km plots of land at 3km intervals across the whole canton, between 2012 and 2017.

They then identified 966 of those plants visited by daytime pollinators, and compared their findings with highly-detailed data assembled about the vegetation of the canton before 1930.

Some specialised groups of insects evolved in partnership with equally specialised insects. The scientists found that, for instance, greater knapweed or Centaurea scabiosa was in decline, which was bad news for those bumblebees, bees and butterflies with tongues long enough to reach the nectar. The poisonous plant aconite, or Aconitum napellus, is pollinated by a bumblebee impervious to its toxin. Once again, the loss of floral variety and insect life even in one much-occupied place may not have been obvious.

“It’s hard for us to imagine what vegetation looked like 100 years ago,” said Michael Kessler, a botanist at the University of Zurich. “But our data showed that about half of all species have experienced significant decline in their abundance, while only about 10% of the species have increased.” − Climate News Network

The insect world is dwindling. By 2100, half of all insects could be gone. But there could be gainers too.

LONDON, 30 April, 2020 − The butterflies are quietly flying away, the beetles are buzzing off, and the insect world is shrinking. The Earth’s  land-based insects are in steady decline, their numbers falling by around a quarter every three decades.

And although there could be a whole world of reasons for the global loss of a vital class of animals, European scientists have pinpointed at least one, in one location.

Insect food plants are being lost in the Swiss canton of Zurich, and with them, many of the hoverflies, bumblebees, bees and butterflies that depend on them.

Scientists from Germany and Russia report in the journal Science that they examined the bigger story told by data from 166 surveys of insects and arachnids – that is, not just flies but spiders too – across 1,676 sites worldwide, over periods from 1925 to 2018, and many of them of around 20 years.

Largely missed

They found that those insects that based their lives on land rather than water were slipping away at an average of 0.92% per year. “0.92% might not sound like much, but in fact it means 24% fewer insects in 30 years’ time and 50% fewer over 75 years,” said Roel van Klink of the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research and based at the University of Leipzig.

“Insect declines happen in a quiet way and we don’t take much notice from one year to the next. It’s like going back to the place where you grew up. It’s only because you haven’t been there for years that you suddenly realise how much has changed, and all too often not for the better.”

He is not the first to draw attention to insect loss: other groups have warned of dramatic instances of decline and imminent extinction, along with the changes in insect populations and the disappearance of the habitat on which so many species depend.

But the researchers found the decline wasn’t uniform. Those insects – midges and mayflies, for example – that are essentially aquatic were actually increasing in number, on average by more than 1% a year. Flying insects overall however are in decline, and ground-dwellers and grassland insects too are slowly losing the battle for survival, while the numbers of insects in the woodland treetops remain about the same.

“Insect declines happen in a quiet way and we don’t take much notice from one year to the next”

Insect declines in Europe and the US West and Midwest were marked, but those insects that live for part of their lives in water in northern Europe and the western US showed a 38% increase over 30 years: this may reflect national and international attempts to limit pollution of the waterways. In both decline and revival, the scientists at work see the impact of human handling of natural habitat.

“Insect populations are like logs of wood that are pushed under water,” Dr van Klink said. “They want to come up while we keep pushing them down. But we can reduce the pressure so they rise again.

“The freshwater insects have shown us this is possible. It’s just not always easy to identify the causes of declines, and thus the most effective measures to reverse them. And these may also differ between locations.”

But within a day of the publication of the Science analysis, German and Swiss scientists had identified the cause of decline in one closely-observed area. They report in the journal Ecological Applications that over the past century there had been an overall decline in wild food plants for all kinds of insects in the Zurich canton.

Urban spread

Wetlands had shrunk by around 90%, the cities and towns had expanded, intensive farming had meant the loss of meadows and farmland habitats.
With help from 250 volunteers, researchers had made detailed studies of the 1,719 seed plant species in 1km plots of land at 3km intervals across the whole canton, between 2012 and 2017.

They then identified 966 of those plants visited by daytime pollinators, and compared their findings with highly-detailed data assembled about the vegetation of the canton before 1930.

Some specialised groups of insects evolved in partnership with equally specialised insects. The scientists found that, for instance, greater knapweed or Centaurea scabiosa was in decline, which was bad news for those bumblebees, bees and butterflies with tongues long enough to reach the nectar. The poisonous plant aconite, or Aconitum napellus, is pollinated by a bumblebee impervious to its toxin. Once again, the loss of floral variety and insect life even in one much-occupied place may not have been obvious.

“It’s hard for us to imagine what vegetation looked like 100 years ago,” said Michael Kessler, a botanist at the University of Zurich. “But our data showed that about half of all species have experienced significant decline in their abundance, while only about 10% of the species have increased.” − Climate News Network