France: Insect ranchers pour $5 million into large-scale genetic breeding facility

For centuries, farmers have bred livestock and crops for desirable traits such as faster growth, better taste, and resistance to disease. Now, a new kind of rancher is following in their footsteps: mealworm breeders. Last week, France-based Ÿnsect announced it will spend nearly $5 million on the world’s first large-scale initiative to use state-of-the-art genetics for breeding beetle larvae and other insects that can be used as animal feed, fertilizer—and even food for people.

“We’re talking about accelerating the ability to use the genomes of millions of insects” for selective breeding, says insect geneticist Christine Picard of Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, who is not involved in the effort. The new program, she notes, should help scientists untangle the often complex mix of genes involved in commercially valuable traits such as faster reproduction and more efficient food consumption. “The sheer volume [of genetic information] that they can get through might be able to address that.”

Ÿnsect, founded in 2011, is a large insect rancher. It operates two “vertical farms”—one in France, the other in the Netherlands—that produce billions of yellow mealworm beetle larvae (Tenebrio molitor) and other insects every year. The bugs are processed into powders and oils used in pet food, fish and farm feeds, and textured tofulike “meats” for human consumption. The company also sells the shed shells of the growing mealworms as fertilizer.

Last year, Ÿnsect worked with outside researchers to sequence and publish a nearly complete genome of the yellow mealworm. Now, it will use those genetic data to hunt for traits that could be improved through selective breeding, says Thomas Lefebvre, an R&D scientist at the company. Scientists will use a strategy known as genomic selection, which involves using a large swath of genetic markers to identify insects likely to produce offspring with desirable traits. The approach offers a “more resilient and more informed way” to pick the adult beetles used for breeding, Lefebvre says. And although it’s a standard operating procedure in plant and livestock breeding, it’s a novel approach to industrial insect rearing.

Read the complete article at

Publication date:

Receive the daily newsletter in your email for free | Click here

Other news in this sector:

Sign up for our daily Newsletter and stay up to date with all the latest news!

Subscribe I am already a subscriber