Sustainable and efficient insect production for livestock feed through selective breeding (FLYgene)

Project summary

Interest in insect rearing for livestock feed is growing globally, including in Kenya and Uganda where the booming livestock sector has necessitated feed importation. Insect rearing offers climate-friendly bio-waste conversion as insects can thrive on food-wastes that are unusable by other livestock. High digestibility and nutritional value of insect meal for various livestock species not only improve livestock productivity, but also help to reduce greenhouse gas emission per livestock product unit.
In Kenya and Uganda, the black soldier fly (BSF) is of particular interest among insect species used for feed. While number of smallholder farmers and commercial companies rearing BSF for feed in Kenya and Uganda is increasing, production still relies on wild BSF strains and selective breeding to improve BSF product quality and quantity is non-existent. There is a knowledge gap regarding which BSF parameters to improve genetically and to what extent can these parameters be improved. Additionally, the insect’s small size, fragility, and metamorphic life cycle makes it challenging to implement selective breeding. Several research questions remain to be addressed including:
• Which BSF traits should be prioritized in the smallholder and commercial production contexts in Kenya and Uganda, and to what extent can these traits be genetically improved?
• Can BSF individuals or families be identified and traits measured at a large scale for routine genetic evaluation, given the insect’s small size, fragility, and metamorphic life cycle?
• What is the existing extent of genetic diversity within and between BSF populations in Kenya and Uganda?
• Which breeding strategy would allow optimal genetic gain while maintaining genetic diversity?
The overall aim of this project is to generate new knowledge of BSF genetics, genomics, and phenomics to inform the design of sustainable breeding programs in Kenya and Uganda.
With the assembly of a multidisciplinary team of entomologists, geneticists, bioinformaticians, electronic and computer engineers, and nutritionists, the project will explore innovative BSF phenotyping and family identification systems and the genetic parameters of BSF traits, followed by the design of breeding schemes.

New knowledge generated through the project is transferable to insect breeding for human consumption and the targeting of different BSF production systems in the two countries allows generalization of results to other African countries.


First year report
The FlyGene project involves 22 researchers in Uganda, Kenya, and Denmark. Several activities have so far been carried out in the 5 work packages (WPs).
WP 1 organized stakeholder workshops (one in each target country) to raise awareness about genetically improved black soldier fly strains, incorporate farmer inputs, and identify traits for genetic improvement. A technical report of the workshops is available on the project website. A large-scale survey in Kenya and Uganda followed the workshops to verify trait preferences and characterize the BSF production system. Two MSc students were recruited for the task and are now writing their MSc thesis based on the survey data.
In WP 2, two PhD students were recruited through a competitive process, and are currently conducting experiments to develop a computer-vision system for measuring characteristics of black soldier fly larvae.
WP 3 recruited one PhD student and completed the collection of BSF samples from 8 agro-ecological zones in Kenya and Uganda for DNA extraction and whole genome sequencing.
WPs 4 and 5, included activities such as upgrading insectry facilities in Uganda and Kenya and collecting live-BSF samples for founder populations. These activities pave the way for genetic parameter estimation and the development of breeding programs.
Monthly meetings were held for each work package, with quarterly meetings for the project management group and an annual meeting for the steering committee to review project progress.

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