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Scientists to explore insect farming for food, feed

Insect farming is identified as a practical, economical, environmentally sound and sustainable method for producing high-value protein.

Adam Russell, AgriLife media

August 19, 2021

4 Min Read
Del Gatlin, (left) and Jeff Tomberlin will lead the Center for Environmental Sustainability through Insect Farming at Texas A&M University.Laura McKenzie, Texas AgriLife Extension

It is estimated that by 2050, traditional agriculture will fall about 40% short of the world’s food supply needs, according to The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. In response, Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientists are exploring insect farming for food and feed. 

“The difficult truth is we are maxing out our planet’s resources, and with land and water availability declining and climate variability increasing, agricultural production is facing serious threats,” said Jeff Tomberlin, Department of Entomology. “Insect farming has the potential to relieve some of the pressure on our increasing agro-industrial systems across the globe."


Insect farming has been identified as a practical, economical, environmentally sound and sustainable method for producing high-value protein.

To find solutions for sustainable food production, a Center for Environmental Sustainability through Insect Farming has been established thanks to a $2.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Science FoundationTexas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has been assigned as the lead site for the center, which will be a collaborative effort with Mississippi State University, MSU, and Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis, IUPUI. Joining the universities will be 34 U.S. and global industrial partners, including Mars Inc., Tyson Foods and insect farming pioneers such as Aspire Food Groups, Protix and Beta Hatch Inc.

Tomberlin and Del Gatlin, Department of Ecology and Conservation Biology, will lead the center on the Texas A&M University campus. The research will explore new avenues to produce food either for direct human consumption or as feed for livestock, poultry and aquaculture or to be used in pet food. 

Strengthening the food supply chain with insects

Patrick J. Stover, vice chancellor of Texas A&M AgriLife, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and director of Texas A&M AgriLife Research, said the center represents another opportunity for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and AgriLife Research to provide expertise and guidance for continued efforts toward sustainable agriculture. 

“Strengthening our national and global food supply chains through environmentally responsible efficiencies in agriculture will be critical to our growing population’s future,” Stover said. “It is vitally important that we embrace the responsibility and opportunity of this moment in the evolution of food production and show how agriculture can be the solution to global challenges like climate change.”

Tomberlin said insect farming represents a burgeoning link in the global food supply chain and has the potential to strengthen and compliment traditional protein production in an efficient and environmentally friendly way.

Incorporating insect protein into feed for fish, poultry and pork production will reduce agriculture’s environmental footprint, including land and water use, waste and pollution emissions, he said. Insects like crickets and mealworms have shown promise as a high-protein food option for people.

“Insect farming is a relatively new concept in the U.S., but the significance of its potential is widely recognized throughout the world,” Tomberlin said. “It is relevant to all livestock and agriculture production, and for Texas A&M to be the central site for this center is enormous for us as an institution, but also for the state.”  

The science behind the impact

Researchers will engage interdisciplinary expertise in microbiology, engineering, chemistry, food nutrition, physiology and biology with cutting edge technologies in labs and in the field to fill scientific and industrial gaps related to insect farming.

 The interdisciplinary AgriLife Research collaborators include:

The lead researchers at IUPUI are Christine Picard an associate professor at the School of Science at IUPUI, and Yunlong Liu, a professor of medical and molecular genetics at the Indiana University School of Medicine. Heather R. Jordan, an associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and Jonas King, an assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Entomology and Plant Pathology, will lead the site at MSU.

Collaborators will work to deliver fundamental research and evaluations for optimization and production of insects that will contribute to global food supply chains.

AgriLife Research scientists will examine optimization in production and development of food as well as feed products for poultry, swine, aquaculture and pets. IUPUI and MSU will target genetics and quality assurances related to microbiology, respectively.

“It’s exciting that Texas A&M will act as the hub for this potentially revolutionary evolution in food and feed production,” Tomberlin said. “All the tenets for creating a circular economy that adds efficiency to agriculture, reduces pollution and waste, and improves producer and consumer choice are at the core of this center’s mission. We look forward to the opportunity for Texas A&M AgriLife to lead this effort directed at solving global challenges.”

Source: is AgriLife TODAY, which is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.

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About the Author(s)

Adam Russell

AgriLife media, Texas AgriLife

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