Freezing Fly Eggs for the Future

WISe, the entrepreneurship club for Weizmann Institute of Science students, helped three alumni found a new company that could advance the edible insect market

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black soldier fly

Flies are packed with protein and nutritious fat; and they grow quickly fed on organic waste. One fly in particular, the black soldier fly (Hermitia illucens), could potentially provide an alternative, sustainable source of protein in animal feed, and companies around the world are looking into the possibility. A new company founded by three recent Weizmann Institute of Science graduates means to advance the edible insect industry by freezing the eggs of these flies so that growers can better plan and control their yields.

The interest in edible insects has grown in recent years as it has become clear that the present use of 80% of the world’s agricultural land to feed animals is unsustainable. Black soldier flies are considered excellent candidates for alternate protein sources because they don’t bite or transmit disease, and their larva grow quickly to thousands of times their original size, all on such organic waste as citrus peels or rotting meat. Once grown, they can be ground into flour to make a nutritious additive to animal feed.

The three fresh Weizmann Institute of Science graduates – Drs. Yuval Gilad, Idan Alyagor and Yoav Politi – named their company FREEZEM. As the name suggests, they are developing a way to cryogenically freeze the fly eggs so they remain viable. The technology for freezing fly eggs, they say, is different from that used to freeze human ova or bacteria, and they are the first to offer this development.

The idea of freezing eggs is to separate the fly’s life cycle into two: On the one, the reproductive, egg-laying stage and, on the other, growing larvae. This would enable the growers to focus on the correct amounts, conditions and timing to produce the highest yields of insects. “Just as modern farmers buy seed, edible insect growers will buy frozen eggs, thaw them and grow the larvae,” says Gilad. The global edible insect market is already estimated to stand at 100 million dollars, but the trade in animal feed is worth around 400 billion. That means that the potential market for such sustainable alternative protein sources as insect flour is huge. The three founders of FREEZEM are hoping that their technology will be the push that is needed to make growing flies efficient, cost-effective and competitive in this market.

The company was conceived in WISe, the entrepreneurship club for Weizmann Institute of Science students. Gilad and Politi have been friends since kindergarten; they met Alyagor through the club. All three had wanted to move from the academic world to industry, and WISe, through meetings with entrepreneurs and industrialists, gave them essential tools for developing a business model and founding their company. They recently signed an agreement with Yeda, the technology transfer arm of the Weizmann Institute, and Yeda has invested in FREEZEM, as well.