Contributed by Dr Nathalie BEREZINA, Chief technical officer- Downstream, Ynsect
Insects are the most abundant eukaryotes worldwide. More than million species have been identified so far, and it is among insects that the room for discovery is estimated to be the largest. However, until very recently insects have been considered pests, and a number of insecticides, pesticides and other biologic weapons against them were developed. At Ynsect we believe that insect’s tremendous potential can be used to help us deal with some of the most challenging issues humanity is currently facing such as raw material shortage, the need for smart materials, and discovery of novel molecules to fight against multi-resistant microorganisms and other diseases.
After an extensive screening of several, among the most common, insect species Ynsect decided to focus first on a mealworm, Tenebrio molitor. This choice was guided by several criteria, among them the fact that this is an indigenous insect. This small beetle most probably adapted his natural behavior thousands of years ago, when wheat started to be extensively exploited by humans. Also, this insect is not social, not jumping and not flying. to make the first ever industrial scale rearing unit, we thought, “let’s try to avoid some unnecessary difficulties!” Also, T. molitor naturally consumes wheat bran, among many different byproducts of agro-industry. These by-products are then not a waste, but not a noble raw material, therefore no major sanitary issues or competition with human nutrition can be foreseen. Finally, the inner composition of T. molitor is extremely interesting, indeed, less wet than many other organisms, it contains up to 40% dry matter, which is mainly composed by proteins, up to 55%, lipids – 30% and chitin – 5%, the ashes counting for less than 3%.
Moreover, the specific proteins present in the mealworms have shown a particularly outstanding efficiency at growing rainbow trout, leading to an enhancement of up to 30% growth of juveniles (Armenjon, B.et al., 2015, in proceedings of Aquaculture Europe conference). The fatty acid composition of lipids is also of particular interest, as it exhibits a very peculiar equilibrium among ω6 and ω9 unsaturated fatty acids. This makes it an ingredient of choice for specific feed and food applications but also allows its non-nutritional utilizations for the synthesis of non-polyurethane isocyanates, or surfactant or even high quality soaps for cosmetic and body care applications (Figovsky O. et al., 2013, PU Magazine, 10, 1-8). Also, chitin, contained in insects’ cuticles is an extremely valuable high-added value product. The proprietary methods of its extraction allowaccess to a high quality biomaterial, which can be further deacetylated to get chitosan, an extremely versatile biopolymer with numerous applications, namely in cosmetics and medicine (Khor H, Wan ACA. Chitin: fulfilling a biomaterials promise. Elsevier Insights, 2nd Ed., 2014), its further modifications and applications are currently under investigation. Finally, even feces produced by the insects when growing are used as fertilizers, as their composition of essential elements such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium corresponds to the requirements of several superior plants.
The success of Ynsect relies on a strong commitment of its founders, but also on the multicultural and multidisciplinary highly skilled and highly motivated team. Today, Ynsect represents a team of more than 40 people, the strongest portfolio of patents in this new industry and a first-of-its-kind demonstrating unit able to produce significant volumes to address its first markets, i.e. premium pet food. Tomorrow, Ynsect will be producing up to several millions tons of products, mainly for the feed industry, but also for the green chemistry industry, and maybe even for the food industry. It will be producing it through breakthrough units, located all over the world, serving customers with performance, volumes, and quality. And it will do it with the same vision which led to the funding of the company: making the best out of insects.
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