Insects are evolutionarily the largest group of organisms with about 1.2 million species. Many species live in highly microbial-contaminated environments, use food or substrates that are hardly degradable or toxic to other organisms, or are pest and vector insects. Basis for the occupation of extreme ecological niches is often a unique repertoire of molecular tools, that can be used for applications in the fields of medicine (red biotechnology), plant protection (green biotechnology) and industrial biotechnology (white biotechnology).
The systematic development of new products and services based on insects (Insect Biotechnology or Yellow Biotechnology) is followed only since recently. The LOEWE-Centre ‘Insect Biotechnology’ is Europe's first operational unit in this highly innovative research field with tremendous growth prospects. Basis of insect biotechnology is the in-depth knowledge of the systematics and ecology of insects. After the knowledge-based selection of specialized insect species, application-relevant molecules can be identified with highly sensitive analytical methods, examined, and used for downstream applications.
So far, the group has discovered substances produced by beetles and butterflies that inhibit the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which will be further developed as new antimicrobial agents. Peptides originating from bugs and flies also proved to be useful for the control of fungi, which are responsible for significant crop losses worldwide. Salivary enzyme secretions of fly larvae have been discovered that enable the human coagulation system and can be used for wound treatment. Furthermore digestive secretions of grain pest beetles have been discovered, which are suitable for the preparation of gluten-free food products. Even insects models have been developed as an alternative to traditional animal testing for toxicity and efficacy testing of drugs. In addition, it was possible to develop new systems for environmental-friendly control of agricultural pests and mosquitoes.
Through the LOEWE program (Landes-Offensive for the Development of Scientific and Economic Excellence) the state of Hesse supports the collaborative project between the
• Justus-Liebig-University Giessen (JLU), represented by the Institute of Insect Biotechnology (Prof. Dr. Andreas Vilcinskas & Prof. Dr. Marc F. Schetelig) and the Institute of Food Chemistry and Food Biotechnology (Prof. Dr. Holger Zorn)
• the Fraunhofer Project Group Bioresources (Prof. Dr. Andreas Vilcinskas), and the
• Technische Hochschule Mittelhessen - University of Applied Sciences (THM), represented by the Institute of Bioprocess Engineering and Pharmaceutical Technology (Prof. Dr. Peter Czermak).
The most important component of the project is the construction of an independent Fraunhofer Institute in Gießen. The scientific and structural development of the LOEWE - Centre ‘Insect Biotechnology’ are mediated by the Communication Initiative ProLOEWE to professionals and most importantly also to a wide public audience.