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Evaluation of the properties of organic substrates following use in insect bioconversion systems

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Sunday, April 07, 2019
  • Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

Following development of insect larvae organic rearing substrates can be used as fertilisers. The properties of this remaining substrate are poorly defined and functional claims have been made without robust evidence. The project will examine the chemical and microbiological properties of these substrates and their potential functional uses.


The concept of using insects to reduce organic waste and to derive high value products from the insects has been researched for the past few decades and has recently been taken up by a number of companies globally for the production of protein for inclusion in animal feed. The insect species that has been the focus of this research is the black soldier fly, Hermetia illucens. This species can develop on a wide range of organic substrates ranging from vegetable waste to animal manures. In addition to the products that can be derived from the insects (protein, fats and chitin) the residual rearing material remaining after the 2 insects have completed development can be used as an organic fertiliser (e.g. Choi et al., 2009, Zhu et al., 2012) and it is possible that this will act as a biofertiliser due to the presence of a diverse range of microorganisms. Biofertilisers can be defined as “a formulated product containing one or more microorganisms that enhance the nutrient status (and the growth and yield) of the plants by either replacing soil nutrients and/or by making nutrients more available to plants and/or by increasing plant access to nutrients” (Malusá and Vassilev, 2014). Limited studies have also shown that leachate produced in the insect bioconversion process can have an effect on plant diseases (Canary, 2012). The purpose of this project is to examine the chemical and physical properties and microbial communities in the residue remaining after insect bioconversion to ascertain the function and the potential role as biofertilisers or growth media in different horticultural/agricultural scenarios. Multidisciplinary research is required in both laboratory and field trials.


1. The residual rearing substrate remaining after insect bioconversion has physical, chemical and biological properties of an organic fertiliser or biofertiliser
2. The rearing substrate used will affect these properties
3. The nutrients and/or other properties of the residual rearing substrate will positively affect plant growth
4. The mechanism by which these effects occur e.g. symbiotic relationship of microorganisms with plant roots or competition between microorganisms, can be determined
5. The residual rearing substrate or leachate may have the ability to suppress plant diseases

Full Project Description

How to apply

You must apply through the University’s online postgraduate application form. Only mandatory fields need to be completed. However, you will need to include the following information:

• insert the programme code 8010F in the programme of study section
• select ‘PhD in Agriculture and Rural Development (FT) – Food and Nutrition’ as the programme of study
• insert the studentship code IAFRI-08 in the studentship/partnership reference field
• attach a covering letter and CV. The covering letter must state the title of the project, quote reference code IAFRI-08 and state how your interests and experience relate to the project
• attach degree transcripts and certificates and, if English is not your first language, a copy of your English language qualifications

You should also send a covering letter and CV to Mr Steven Hall (e-mail to )

The online application system will only allow one application for an IAFRI studentship. If you are applying for TWO projects then you will need to e-mail Postgraduate Admissions and Steven Hall with the following information:

-your applicant number (from the first project application)
-the second project title
-a two page covering letter for the second project
Please also include 'IAFRI-08' in the email header

Funding Notes

There are five studentships available from 10 projects to choose from based on the current themes.
Students will be based at either Newcastle University or Fera Science Ltd in York. Each award provides a 3 year PhD with 100% tuition fees at UK/EU rate plus an annual stipend (minimum £15,009) Successful non-EU international students will be required to make up the difference between the UK/EU fees and international fees.

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