Insects, such as darkling beetles and black soldier flies, can and should be bred to convert organic agricultural waste into usable products--like animal feed, pharmaceutical products, and biofuel, say UC Davis agricultural entomologist Christian Nansen, an associate professor in the Department of Entomology and Nematology and doctoral student Trevor M Fowles of the Nansen lab.
Fowles was recently awarded a grant from the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) to develop lines of insects for bioconversion of agricultural waste.
“In the 21st Century, we will be breeding insects for their ability to effectively convert agricultural organic waste, and researchers at UC Davis are leading the effort,” Nansen says.
Nansen will be among those speaking at a two-day workshop on “Aligning the Food System for Food Safety in Food Waste Systems,” set May 15-16 in the UC Davis Conference Center and the Walter A. Buehler Alumni Center. Nansen will be part of a panel discussion from 1:30 to 3:35 p.m., Thursday in the Alumni Center on “Composing and Anaerobic Digestion for Nutrient Recycling.” He joins fellow panelists Jenny Stephenson, environmental protection specialist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Steve Zacari, director of engineering and research and development, California State Soil; and Robert Horowitz, supervisor, Organic Materials and Construction and Demolition Unit, CalRecycle.
Fowles and Nansen compare insect breeding to livestock breeding. “We are used to thinking of livestock breeding as producing dairy cows with higher milk production or chickens producing more and bigger eggs.”
As part of his PhD project, Fowles applies the concepts of livestock breeding to insects “so that specially adapted lines of insects can be developed and commercialized to manage economically important agricultural organic wastes, such as, skins and stems from wine production and from tomato processing. As the human population continues to grow, so, too, do the concerns regarding the sustainability of waste management from our food production systems. In the U.S. alone, we generate 145-602 gigatons of organic waste annually-- or about nine pounds per day per person! Disposal of these wastes in compost and landfilling operations generates greenhouse gases and other environmental pollutants.”
The Nansen lab research, funded by CDFA and the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, emphasizes economic feasibility, community engagement, and environmental stewardship.
Fowles and Nansen recently co-authored a paper, "Artificial Selection of Insects to Bioconvert Pre-Consumer Organic Wastes. A Review" in the journal, Agronomy for Sustainable Development (https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13593-019-0577-z).
“The potential for using insects to consume organic waste materials and convert them into feed for animal, biofuels, and other valuable secondary products is gaining momentum as both a research discipline and as a business opportunity,” they wrote in their abstract. They described insects as the ideal bioconverters, as “insects uniquely equipped to convert wastes into biomass and other valuable secondary products, and we present the current knowledge and existing research gaps towards the development of such organisms. We conclude that (1) targeted breeding of insects and their gut microbes can produce tailored insect lineages for bioconversion of specific waste streams; (2) research is needed to take full advantage of the existing insect diversity to identify new candidate species for bioconversion; and (3) further research into insect-gut microbial complexes will likely provide important insight into ways insects can be used as sustainable bioconverters of highly specialized waste streams.”
Currently, only a few insect species are used for bioconversion of organic wastes. They include crickets, locusts, black soldier flies, green bottle flies an several species of mealworms.
In addition to funding from CDFA, Fowles has also secured an EPA grant for his research, “Beetle Larvae as Biodegraders of Styrofoam and Organic Waste,” involving darkling beetles, Tenebrio molitor. In the wild, darkling beetles and larvae are general decomposers, eating decaying leaves, sticks, grasses, and carcasses, but the larvae are also known to eat polystyrene or plastic foam, commonly known as Styrofoam. They can decompose as much as three-fourths of a pound of Styrofoam within a three-week period, Fowles says. After biodegrading the Styrofoam, the beetles can be pelletized for animal feed, and the excrement or frass can be used as “high-value amendment to compost mixtures.”
(News media: you're invited to contact the Nansen lab to see the mass rearing processes and breeding. E-mail Christian Nansen at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the lab at (530)-752-2954.)
She is the first UC Davis-affiliated scientist to win the award. She will receive a certificate, 1250 pounds ($1,624) and an expense paid trip to London to receive the award at the Ento 19 conference, set Aug. 20-22 at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
The Royal Entomological Society, an international organization devoted to the study of insects, was founded in 1833 as the Entomological Society of London. Its mission is to disseminate information about insects and improve communication between entomologists.
Gillung's work on spider flies, involving genomics, phylogenetics, systematics, and comparative analyses, “has increased our understanding of the biological patterns and processes that have shaped our planet's biodiversity,” wrote her major professor and award nominator Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and a professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Gillung received her doctorate in entomology from UC Davis in December 2018, studying with Kimsey and mentor Shaun Winterton, insect biosystematist, California Department of Food and Agriculture, and a member of the Royal Entomological Society. Gillung also collaborated with ant specialist and taxonomist Phil Ward, professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Gillung is now a postdoctoral associate at Cornell University in the Bryan Danforth lab, where she is researching Apoidea (stinging wasps and bees) phylogenomics, evolution and diversification.
Her dissertation, “Systematics and Phylogenomics of Spider Flies (Diptera, Acroceridae),” focused on the evolution, conservation, biology, and taxonomy of spider flies, a group of spider natural enemies,
Gillung's taxonomic work on spider flies, described as landmark, included identification keys and morphology-based diagnoses of species using modern techniques of cybertaxonomy—the application of the internet, digital technologies, and computer resources to increase and speed up the discovery and cataloging of new species, Kimsey wrote. “Using cybertaxonomic tools, Jessica described 25 new spider fly species herself, and in collaboration with fellow entomologists, three fossil species from Baltic amber, described in her first dissertation chapter. Cybertaxonomy is a powerful tool that allows researchers and citizen scientists to collaborate in real time and across great distances to increase the speed and efficiency of biodiversity discovery.”
“Jessica unraveled the functional and ecological implications of key morphological traits, as well as their distribution across the Tree of Life,” Kimsey said. “In her doctoral dissertation, she established new homologies for the wing venation of spider flies and conducted detailed and assiduous dissections of male reproductive structures (i.e., genitalia) to understand homologies, demonstrating that morphological traits are dynamically evolving systems useful for both classification and inference of evolutionary history.”
Since many insect species are threatened, geographically restricted, or relatively rare in nature, Gillung performed non-destructive DNA extraction of specimens housed in entomological collections, including the Bohart Museum of Entomology. Gillung collected molecular data from decades-old insects without damaging the specimens.
Gillung's multifaceted research on genomics, bioinformatics, phylogenetics, plant-pollinator interactions, and biodiversity discovery drew more $120,000 in grants and awards while at UC Davis.
The UC Davis alumnus is known for her “phenomenal leadership activities, her nearly straight-A academic record (3.91 grade point average), her excellence as an entomologist and teacher, her public service and outreach programs (from 2013 to 2018, she reached more than 20,000 people at UC Davis-based events) and her incredible publication record,
Kimsey said. “She published 11 refereed publications related to her thesis in very strong journals. Most entomologists do not publish nearly that much, even as a postdoctoral scholar or a junior faculty member.”
A recipient of numerous other awards, Gillung won the prestigious international award for “Best Student Presentation Award” at the ninth annual International Congress of Dipterology, held in 2018 in Windhoek, Namibia. She also won the 2019 Early Career Award from the Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America (PBESA) and the 2018 PBESA Student Leadership Award. PBESA encompasses 11 western states, U.S. territories and parts of Canada and Mexico.
Gillung was a key member of the 2015 PBESA championship Linnaean Team that went on to win the ESA national championship. The Linnaean Games are lively question-and-answer, college bowl-style competition on entomological facts played between university-sponsored student teams.
Gillung also collaborated on a project aimed at encouraging students to attend and participate in the Orlando, Fla., meeting of the International Congress of Entomology. She and several colleagues published a paper entitled “From the Students to the Students: Why YOU need to Attend ICE 2016.”
The Royal Entomological Society will publish her biography and photo in its Antenna magazine, on the society website, and in the Marsh Christian Trust Award brochure.
James R. Carey, UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology, will speak Thursday, May 9 at the Walter A. Buehler Alumni Center on “What Can Insect Studies Tell Us about Longevity and Aging? Lots!”
His talk, hosted by the UC Davis Emeriti Association, begins at 11:30. The Alumni Center is located at 530 Alumni Lane. Among the topics he will cover:
- Are there lifespan limits?
- Evolution of lifespan extremes
- Male-female longevity differences
- Evolutionary demography of humans as informed by insect studies
- Three raging controversies in the demography of aging and lifespan in humans
Jeanne Calment of France (1875-1997), who died at age 122 (and 164 days), holds the record of the longest confirmed human lifespan.
An internationally recognized leader and distinguished scholar in insect demography and invasion biology, spanning three decades, Carey also researches health demography, biology of aging, and lifespan theory. He is the author of a landmark study published in the journal Science in 1992 that showed mortality of Mediterranean fruit flies (medflies) slows at older ages. Scientists last year confirmed that this also occurs in humans, citing the study of 105-year-old Italian women.
Carey, who joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology (now Entomology and Nematology) in 1980, directed an 11-university, $10 million, 10-year study on biodemography of aging from 2003-2013. He is also known for discovering Carey's Equality or the death distribution in a life table population equals its age structure. He teaches a popular longevity course that draws 250 to 300 students year, and recently authored a book on biodemography, to be published by Princeton University next year.
Carey drew a large crowd for his Science Café presentation Oct.10 on "Are There Upper Limits to Human Lifespan?” in the G St. Wunderbar, Davis.
The talk is open to the public. Those who want to have lunch must make reservations by Monday, May 6 to the UC Davis Emeriti Association at (530) 752-5182 or email@example.com.
The annual UC Davis Graduate Research Symposium for the Designated Emphasis in the Biology of Vector-Borne Diseases (DEBVBD) is set for 3 to 8 p.m., Thursday, May 9 in the Walter A. Buehler Alumni Center, 530 Alumni Drive.
Coordinator Sharon Lawler, professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, announced that the symposium is open to all interested persons.
The schedule includes
- 3:10 p.m. Opening remarks by coordinator/professor Sharon Lawler of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology
- 3:15 p.m. Presentation by Steve Lindow, professor of plant pathology, UC Berkeley, on “Detailed Studies of Vectorborne Plant Pathogens Can Lead to Novel Means of Disease Control: the Case of Xylella fastidiosa in Grape and Citrus"
- 4:05 p.m. Graduate Student Poster Session. All DEBVBD students are required to present a poster
- 5:15 p.m. Presentation by Jason Rasgon, professor of entomology and disease epidemiology, University of Pennsylvania, on “Endosymbiotic Control of Mosquito-Borne Vruses: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”
- 6:05 p.m. Informal, catered dinner (space is limited and reservations are required)
Students presenting their posters will be Sarah Taysir Abusaa, Laura Harlan Backus, Erin Elizabeth Ball, Nicholas Booster, Marisa Anne Pella Donnelly, Anna C Erickson, Jessica Yvette Franco, Karen Marie Holcomb, Erin Taylor Kelly, William Louie, Norma Angelica Ordaz, Risa Raelene Pesapane, Benjamin Thomas Plourde, Maribel Alexandra Portilla, Kasen Kane Riemersma, Pascale Claire Stiles, and Olivia Chase Winokur.
Beverages and snacks will be provided at the symposium. Those interested in attending the dinner must respond by Monday, May 6. Space is limited; first priority will go to members of the DEBVBD, Lawler said. To RSVP, access https://forms.gle/zjTq2DTeahenGeTa6
The event is funded by the Pacific-Southwest Center of Excellence in Vector-Borne Diseases, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, UC Davis Department of Plant Pathology, and the Virginia Perry Wilson Endowment.
The third annual California Honey Festival, sponsored by the City of Woodland and the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, May 4 in downtown Woodland. It's free and family friendly.
Amina Harris, director of the Honey and Pollination Center, says the event will include a cooking stage, a UC Davis educational stage, a kids' zone, a refreshment zone (beer and wine) and live entertainment.
Among the featured attractions will be a screened bee tent, where festival-goers can see beekeeper Bernardo Niño, staff research associate III in the Elina Niño lab in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, open the hive and point out the queen, worker bees and drones. Bernardo is the educational supervisor of the California Master Beekeeper Program, directed by Extension apiculturist Elina Niño and operated by the Niño lab.
"Bernardo will be taking the girls through their paces three times during the day," Harris quipping, referring to the worker bees. This will be at 11 a.m., 1:15 and 3:30 p.m.
Kitty Bolte from the Xerces Society of Invertebrate Conservation, the first speaker on the UC Davis Educational Stage at 10:15, will welcome Woodand as a "Bee City." Plans also call for UC Davis to be named "Bee University" on Saturday, Harris said. "Rachel Davis, director of the Gateway Gardens, Arboretum has been spearheading this designation."
Pollination ecologist and professor Neal Williams of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, will speak on "The Huge Impact of Native Bees" at 12:30 p.m. on the UC Davis Educational Stage.
The UC Davis Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven will feature a pollinator garden installation highlighting what and how to plant for pollinators, along with displays about common bees found in gardens, said Christine Casey, academic program management officer and manager of the half-acre garden, located on Bee Biology Road. She also will be speaking on bee gardening at 2:45 p.m. on the UC Davis Educational Stage.
The UC Davis area, located in the Woodland Opera House Plaza, in the middle of the festival activities, will be abuzz with new additions, Harris said. Newcomers to the festival include the World Food Center Plant Breeders, UC Davis entomology students. (See schedule.)
California Master Beekeepers will be teaching on the educational platforms at the festival. The Pollinator Posse of the Bay Area, headed by Tora Rocha and Terry Smith, will be on hand to explain the importance of pollinators and what everyone can do to help them.
Live entertainment will include Jayson Angove, Jessica Malone, Big Sticky Mess, Bocado Rio, Case Lipka, David Jacobin, Katgruvs, accordionist Jared Johnson, The City of Trees Brass Band and Double X Brass Band. Other live entertainment includes Space Walker and the Hand Stand Nation.
The festival, launched in 2017, aims to cultivate an interest in beekeeping, and to educate the public in support of bees and their keepers, according to Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center. Last year's festival drew 30,000 people and some 16 California honey companies.
The California Honey Festival's mission: to promote honey, honey bees and their products, and beekeeping. Through lectures and demonstrations, the crowd can learn about bees and how to keep them healthy. Issues facing the bees include pests, pesticides, diseases, malnutrition, and climate changes.