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Transformative technologies to understand host-microbiome interactions in the Black Soldier Fly

   Faculty of Natural Sciences

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  Prof Simon MacKenzie  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

It is estimated that by 2050 the world's population will be 9bn people, which suggests that current food production will have to double. Conversely, food waste is a major global issue with 1.3bn tonnes of waste are generated per annum. Insect biocatalysts, with biomass conversion efficiencies above 50%, represent an unprecedented potential for recycling organic waste into homogeneous nutrient streams. It has been stated that diverting organic food wastes from landfill through insect biocatalysis to facilitate trophic upgrading could help to reduce the 3Gt of CO2 equivalent in greenhouse gas emissions produced by rotting food waste alone. Black Soldier Fly (BSF) farming is now widely accepted as a key solution to tackling some of these challenges. BSF can simultaneously recycle food waste into insect-based animal feed (a sustainable alternative to fishmeal) and biofertiliser (a sustainable alternative to chemical fertilisers). This highly complex farming system requires input from experts across research, governmental and commercial sectors. Whilst hundreds of scientific papers and millions of pounds have been invested globally into validating the transformative potential of BSF farming techniques, the race is still on to demonstrate large-scale, profitable BSF farming operations. In a recently funded, £10 million, Innovate UK project addressing ISCF Future food production systems: The Insectrial Revolution: Stimulating the establishment of a world-leading sustainable insect industry in the UK, the UK’s leading BSF specialists with expertise covering the entire value chain have been brought together. The interdisciplinary consortium is composed of leading specialists in entomology, engineering, data analytics, machine vision, food safety and food supply chains that together aim to deploy highly profitable and sustainable BSF farming systems. By 2040, the consortium aims to have delivered over 100 sites internationally, create 3300 UK based jobs, generated combined annual revenues of £400m for UK tax paying businesses and delivered savings of 50m tonnes CO2 equivalent [IBCWG] - driving us towards the Government's targets for net zero emissions.

This exciting platform provides the opportunity for this focussed PhD project. Here, we aim to further understand critical host-microbiome interactions underlying growth and health in both BSF and salmon. Gut bacteria impact elements of host fitness including growth and immunity and in turn the host shapes the gut microbiome. These elements are critical toward optimising productivity in the system and a failure to understand them leads to lost growth and disease. This studentship aims to:

·       To characterise how different food waste streams impact BSF growth using a combination of novel MS-based technologies for real-time sensing and -omics technologies to characterise optimal and non-optimal host–microbiome relationships.

·       To establish a real-time monitoring platform using MS-based technologies to continuously scan for pathogens, both insect and food-borne, in the BSF production system. There is currently a very limited understanding of what type, how and when pathogens are present.

·       Understand the relationship between BSF feed and performance in salmon aquaculture concentrating upon host-microbiome interactions at critical life stages.

This approach, in direct collaboration with our industrial partners, will provide the successful applicant with direct industry experience through placement and access to the emergent BSF farming industry and the highly successful consolidated UK salmon aquaculture industry providing a valuable industry perspective.

The studentship will be based at the Institute of Aquaculture ( at the University of Stirling and the industrial supervisor is Miha Pipan who is the CSO at Better origin located in Cambridge, UK. ( Better Origin have developed and patented the world's first insect-focused processing line to maximise the value of insect-based products as feed (developed to large lab-scale), delivering products to a predetermined nutritional specification to optimise product value across multiple markets (i.e. salmon, pig, poultry). 

Funding Notes

This is a 4-year CTP Studentship within the IBiolC CTP programme: The studentship comprises of a student stipend and fees at standard Research Council levels and a £5K per annum Research Training Support Grant (RTSG). Furthermore, IBioIC shall make a £3,500 contribution per Studentship to fund/part-subsidise IBioIC-organised training events to achieve the cohort effect.
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