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News Article

New sources of omega-3 fatty acids

Insects could provide much needed source of omega-3

Researchers at Wageningen University in the Netherlands are investigating insect oil as a possible new source of omega-3 fatty acids. Insects make fatty acids naturally and can live on organic waste and so could be a feasible alternative to marine sources of omega-3 that are under increasing pressure. Insects are already used as a source of protein for feed and oil is a byproduct of the protein extraction process. The researchers have analysed oils from several insects and looked at the best extraction methods. They plan to examine the best way to breed the insects for oil and the best way of processing them.

There is increasing pressure on marine sources of omega-3 rich oils. The oil is used in the human nutraceutical market and in aquaculture. The price of the oils is rising and so alternative sources are being sought by researchers. Fish oil contains 3 important fatty acids: alpha-linolenic (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). ALA can be converted to DHA and EPA but the conversion in the body often occurs at low levels, especially the conversion to DHA.

For ALA the best known alternative sources are flaxseed (linseed), rapeseed oil and walnut oil. There are few direct sources of DHA. Marine algae are the best known and some algal oils are commercially available. For EPA there are some algal sources too. DuPont have developed a process for producing EPA from genetically engineered Yarrowia as well and GM oilseeds producing both oils have also been developed.

Researcher Daylan Tzompa Sosa of Wageningen University stumbled on the insect source of oils while doing research on milk fat composition. Out of curiosity, she did similar fat analyses with oil that was left over after protein extraction from insects by a lab colleague.

Tzompa Sosa demonstrated that the oil can be extracted in an environmentally friendly way, and compared to other processes this method gives a better ratio of omega-6 to omega-3. Tzompa Sosa extracted oil from meal worms, beetle larvae, crickets, cockroaches, grasshoppers and soldier flies. Meal worms yielded most oil.

To research breeding, diet and processing of insects for oil, the Wageningen fat researchers are working together with entomologists and bio based experts of Wageningen University. They intend to analyse further different fractions in oil and their properties and conduct a risk analysis of use of the oil for man and for livestock.

Press release:

Insects are a sustainable source of omega-3



Article details

  • Author(s)
  • I. Hoskins
  • Date
  • 14 January 2016
  • Subject(s)
  • Food science