Insect Enzymes for Industrial Biotechnology

Knowledge-driven discovery is applied to identify molecules in insects that can be used in food processing and preservation. Honey from bees is a high-value comestible, which is stored for several months in beehives without refrigeration. Bees and other insects have therefore evolved their own methods to preserve food and prevent microbial degradation, as demonstrated by the burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides. This beetle lives on mouse carcasses and can sense and locate them over a distance of several miles. When two burying beetles encounter each other on a carcass, they cooperate to bury it and thus avoid food competitors. The Bio-Resources group discovered several preservatives in burying beetle saliva, which prevent microbial degradation of the carcass until it is used to feed the beetle hatch. This interesting reproductive behavior also includes feeding the larvae with predigested carcass material, which the beetle achieves by secreting enzymes in its saliva. These enzymes are tested by the group for potential industrial applications in the degradation of organic substances.