Israeli researchers turn bugs into fertilizer and biodiesel

Ariel Levin-Waldman

i24NEWS Science and Technology Correspondent

3 min read
Black soldier flies
WANG Zhao (AFP)Black soldier flies

'What we are doing is genetic engineering of this amazing creature called black soldier fly'

Israeli researchers have found a way to turn maggots into the future of farming. 

“It contains 30 percent protein, very high quality, and 30 percent oil. It can be used for animal feed, as a replacement for soil protein or a fish meal and its production is very sustainable,” Prof. Anna Melkov, CTO and co-founder of BugEra, told i24NEWS.

Researchers say the black soldier fly has amazing properties. They grow very big very fast, can breed in trillions and eat any biological waste. But what’s more important is that they are disruptive, because they can potentially reshape both the food and fuel industries. 

“What we are doing is genetic engineering of this amazing creature called black soldier fly and we are trying to gain more oil in order to get it commercially viable for biofuels production,” Melkov explained. 

The black soldier fly research is the product of a lab at Israel’s premier tech research school - Ben Gurion University. But how does a product jump out of the lab and into mass production?

“Unfortunately, a lot of these wonderful things that could really change the world are staying within the walls of academia and we are here to change that so what we do is we find these groundbreaking research and researchers and we matchmake,” said Julia Segalin Nemets, CEO of Oazis Accelerator. 

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That is where the university’s Oazis Accelerator comes into play. The project is headed by the Yazamut 360 research center. It takes researchers that generally wouldn’t have any idea how to run a company and gets their projects in front of people who couldn’t publish an academic paper. They learn from each other and that’s how you have a viable tech firm. 

For the black soldier fly project that match was Yoav Etgar, a tech giant with multiple successful companies under his belt. Where you and I might see maggots he saw profits. 

“In 2023 it is supposed to be around $4 billion just a basic market for protein. What we are trying to do is have a platform of genetically modified strains that we can prepare and develop specific strains for specific applications,” Etgar told i24NEWS

The lab research is now a company called BugEra and they are refining their product every single day. So far 12 companies have raised $16 million for the accelerator since it was founded in 2020 with five more in development. It is aimed at taking what would have previously been a publication in an obscure journal and turning it into big business. It is also a way for researchers to see their work amount to real world results.

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