A Melbourne biotech company is using its software development skills to breed black soldier flies whose larvae turn organic waste into animal feed.
Inside a shipping container in a warehouse in inner city Melbourne, a robust colony of the flies is being bred to create a sustainable agricultural feed product. The larvae produced by the flies convert food scraps into a protein source.
“What we’re trying to do here is really harness natural processes, turn them into something that’s more efficient than nature, and do something really good for society and for agricultural industries,” Karma3 chief scientific officer Martin Pike said.
While the fly only lives for about a week, during that time the efficient breeders lay between 100 and 500 eggs. As soon as the eggs hatch, they begin breaking down organic matter into a protein-based substance used to feed animals.
With a current nutritional content of 60 to 65 per cent protein, with the remainder a mixture of carbohydrate and fat, Mr Pike said it made an ideal substitute for soybean meal currently used in many animal feeds.
“It’s quite easy to achieve the protein and fat content that we want from the larvae with just a regular sort of food waste,” he said.
The protein is most commonly used as fish meal, but the company is investigating its use in the poultry and swine industries.
Clean source of nutrients
It is not just the high protein content that makes the product desirable — the company claims the added advantage of the black soldier fly is its largely disease-free characteristics that dramatically reduce contamination levels in feedstock.
“They don’t use food at all so they’re not a vector for disease,” Mr Pike said. This characteristic is further exhibited in the larvae, whose gut bacteria Mr Pike likens to a probiotic, making them a clean source of nutrients.
“It can chew through almost any sort of toxic bacteria, things that are commonly a problem like salmonella or E.coli,” he said.
“The end product itself is just naturally free from any sort of bacteria or virus or fungal infection.”
Software expertise helps optimise systems
While Mr Pike and company chief executive James Sackl concede there is nothing new about the use of black soldier flies in organic waste recycling to create animal feed, the entrepreneurs with a background in software development said they were applying their skills to create an optimised system for rearing insects.
“We have developed our systems to be fully autonomous and controlled with AI [artificial intelligence], where our systems get smarter based on the feedback they collect,” Mr Sackl said.