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Identification of olfactory cues for egg laying in the Black Soldier Fly, an industrially important insect species

Project Description:

The potential of insect farming in providing a sustainable source of proteins, fats and other agriculturally and industrially valuable products is increasingly recognized. In particular, the use of insect derived proteins in animal feed has significant promise for the development of sustainable food systems. In addition, a number of farmed insect species can be grown on waste products, adding to the potential ecological benefits of insect rearing at agricultural scale.

This potential is only starting to be tapped into with the development of appropriate scalable rearing practices underway for a number of insect species. As in traditional farming, a critical aspect of insect farming is the development of breeding programs able to optimize growth outcomes such as protein yield or the effective use of a specific waste product as a growth medium. The success of such breeding programs rests on our ability to control the breeding and egg laying process, which in turn rests on our understanding of the insects breeding behaviour and egg laying cues.

One of these commercially important insects is Black soldier fly (BSF). While certain aspects of BSF behaviour and ecology are known, companies like BetaBugs ( are currently developing streamlined breeding programmes that require much more detailed knowledge about the basic behaviours of this fly.

This collaborative project between Biosciences Department at Durham University and BetaBugs aims to characterize the natural smells that affect egg-laying in black soldier flies. You will develop an egg-laying assay for BSF and use this assay to investigate the role of microbiome-derived, food-derived or fly-derived smells as oviposition attractants or repellents. You will test the effects of these stimuli on several strains of BSF, optimized for different purposes. The results of this project will uncover current unknown olfactory preferences of BSF and will instruct the details of the breeding program at BetaBugs, supporting the successful breeding of this important insect. 

This is an opportunity to get involved in an exciting research project with the potential to have direct impact on the successful development of industrial scale insect rearing and its downstream ecological benefits. The project will be hosted by the Riabinina and Clark labs at Durham Biosciences and by BetaBugs, providing invaluable experience in both an academic and industrial setting. A diverse range of research skills will be taught in this project including black soldier fly rearing, development and use of behavioural assays, genetic crosses, olfactory ecology of BSF and microbiology. In addition, you will obtain experience of presenting your data to different audiences, participating in conferences and scientific meetings, and scientific writing.

Required from you are: interest in insect biology, good problem solving ability and creativity, a “can do” attitude, enthusiasm and a proactive approach to the development and progress of this project.

Applicants must have the ability to SELF FUND in full the costs to cover tuition fees, bench fees, and living stipend for a minimum of 1 year (full time).

Success will depend on the quality of applications received, funding, and meeting the minimum criteria required in terms of language and academic qualifications.

Further general information and the on-line application form for Postgraduate Study at Durham University is available here.

If you are interested in applying, please contact Dr Olena Riabinina and Dr Rebecca Clark with a CV, contact details of at least two referees, evidence of English language ability, evidence of qualifications and a detailed covering letter explaining your interest in this research project and your future career plans.