AfricanInsect Science for Food and Health
21 May 2015
Eating the meat of the desert locust could be good for your heart, says a study conducted jointly by icipe, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology and United States Department of Agriculture/Agricultural Research Service (USDA/ARS).
In a paper published in PLOS ONE journal on 13 May 2015, the researchers show that the desert locust, known scientifically as Schistocerca gregaria, contains a rich composition of compounds known as sterols, which in turn have cholesterol-lowering properties, thereby reducing the risk of heart disease.
As icipe scientist, Prof. Baldwyn Torto, explains, sterols occur naturally in plants, animals and fungi. The sterols from plants are called phytosterols and those from animals are known as zoosterols. Cholesterol is the most familiar type of animal sterol. Phytosterols and cholesterol have a common target of getting absorbed in the intestines. However, phytosterols have been shown to have a competitive advantage, as they are able to block the absorption of cholesterol. Although vegetables are generally the richest sources of phytosterols, insects have the potential to supply these useful compounds to people.
“In our study we found that, as is the case in other insects, cholesterol is the major tissue sterol in desert locusts. However, we observed that after the desert locust has fed on a vegetative diet, most of the common phytosterols are amplified and new ones are also produced in its tissues. In turn, this leads to a high phytosterol content, which suggests that eating desert locusts could reduce cholesterol levels,” explains Prof. Torto.
He adds that aside from cardiovascular protective effects, the researchers also found the desert locust to have a wealth of other nutrients, including proteins, fatty acids and minerals, which are beneficial for anti-inflammatory, anticancer and also have immune regulatory effects. As such, the desert locust is an excellent source of dietary components for both humans and animals.
The findings by icipe are redeeming for the desert locust, which is probably more reputed for its alarming threat to food security, for instance, through outbreaks in the Sahel region of Africa, which have been known to destroy land and crops, leaving hunger and poverty in their wake.
“We hope that our findings will refocus the research on the desert locust in a new emerging dimension; its potential as a component in food and nutritional security in Africa. Despite its negative image, the desert locust is already consumed in many regions in Africa and Asia. As icipe has proven over the years, the desert locust is extremely easy to rear, meaning that it could either be domesticated on a small-scale, or even produced through commercial ventures”, concludes Prof. Torto.
Xavier Cheseto, a PhD researcher in icipe‘s Behavioural and Chemical Ecology Unit (BCEU), and Matthew Miti, a technician in the Animal Rearing and Containment Unit, discuss progress of locusts being reared at the Centre.
Notes for Editors
The study was conducted as part of icipe’s new Insects for Food and Feed research theme. Globally, issues surrounding population growth, urbanisation, climate change, diminishing land and water resources, over- and under-nutrition, and persistent poverty, have aggravated food insecurity, especially in developing countries. Against this background, the use of insects as alternative sources of food for human consumption and feed for livestock, has captured the imagination of the global research and donor community. Insects satisfy three important requirements: they are an important source of protein and other nutrients; their use as food has ecological advantages over conventional meat and, in the long run, economic benefits for mass production as animal feed and human food, and they are also a rich source of drugs for modern medicine.
- Funding: This research was funded through the icipe Dissertation Research Internship Program (DRIP) and USDA/ARS- Center for Medical, Agricultural, and Veterinary Entomology.
- Title: “The Potential of the desert locust Schistocerca gregaria (Orthoptera: Acrididae) as an unconventional source of dietary and therapeutic sterols”, available at: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0127171
- Corresponding author: Prof. Baldwyn Torto, email@example.com, +254 20 863200
- Liz Ng’ang’a, Communications Consultant, International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (Kenya), Lnganga@icipe.org, +254 (0) 715 805 051
- Tamzin Byrne, communication officer, International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (Kenya), firstname.lastname@example.org, +254 (0)719 052 120
- Photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/icipeinsects/sets/72157650881699213