Black soldier flies (Hermetia illucens, BSF) are a marvel for the up-and-coming insect rearing industry. They are robust and can grow really big. They even produce their own antimicrobial peptides! However, diseases and disorders are becoming more noticeable in BSF. So, we need to find out which pathogens are responsible for these collections of symptoms and colony collapses.
Just like with humans and new viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19), mass-reared insects can also face new viral threats, as well as old ones. The trick is to be able to identify viruses rapidly, and to improve our knowledge of the viruses that are out there. Even if there is no visible threat at a certain point in time, there is a need for ways to easily detect covert viral infections, or viral infections which produce no obvious symptoms. This is very relevant for the growth of BSF and their further applications in food and feed industry.
BSF are remarkable insects currently utilized in the mass-rearing industry. They are resilient and relatively easy to keep happy. Over the last eight years, from not really experiencing any diseases in BSF before, there have been some naturally occurring symptoms and mortalities described more often in BSF colonies. These symptoms (and sometimes mortalities) are not commonly reported in public domains. However, it appears these issues are becoming more prevalent in the BSF mass-rearing industry around the globe, and the causal agents have yet to be identified. In a multi-pronged diagnostic approach taken in relation with the industry, this project aims to establish the virome of BSF and to push forward with the initial steps of diagnostic and preventative management of any viral pathogens which may harass BSF colonies. Metagenomic and metatranscriptomic approaches on both asymptomatic and symptomatic samples will be used to provide an in-depth characterisation of the BSF virome. Only then, will it be possible to explore the symptomology and epidemiology of the pathogens.