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HexaQuest™ – Optimizing the Performance of Beneficial Insects

We use cutting-edge technologies (genetic and applied methodologies) to optimize the performance of Beneficial Insects used in food systems

Photo of Dror Dagan
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Dagan Pty Ltd ABN: 637 390 875

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

No, single entity.

Website of Legally Registered Entity

www.HexaQuest.com.au

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • Just beginning now

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Sydney, NSW

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

Australia

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

State of New South Wales, Australia.

What country is your selected Place located in?

Australia

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

New South Wales in Australia is a major player in the global food system in terms of both diversity and innovation developments. As a large producer and a major exporter of food (both meat and plant-based), with diverse cropping and landscapes, it is very important for local quality food production and extensively market-oriented agribusiness. The combined selected areas offer a model for modern food safety and security activities for developed nations with an emphasis on quality and environmental sustainability based on the broad use of insects in the food system.

The selected state of NSW is the primary contributor to Australian GDP with the greatest variety of services and primary production for both domestic and export use.

 

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

New South Wales is bordered on the north by Queensland, on the west by South Australia, on the south by Victoria and on the east by the Coral and Tasman Seas.

The state can be divided geographically into four areas. New South Wales's three largest cities, Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong.

Rainfall averages from 150 to 500ml a year throughout most of this region. Summer temperatures can be very hot, while winter nights can be quite cold in this region. Rainfall varies throughout the state.

The estimated population of New South Wales at the end of September 2018 was 8,023,700 people, representing approximately 32% of the nationwide population.

The original inhabitants of New South Wales were the Aboriginal tribes who arrived in Australia about 40,000 to 60,000 years ago. Before European settlement, there were an estimated 250,000 Aboriginal people in the region.

Agriculture is spread throughout the eastern two-thirds of New South Wales. Cattle, sheep and pigs are the predominant types of livestock produced in NSW and they have been present since their importation during the earliest days of European settlement. Economically the state is the most important state in Australia, with about one-third of the country's sheep, one-fifth of its cattle, and one-third of its small number of pigs. New South Wales produces a large share of Australia's hay, fruit, legumes, lucerne, maize, nuts, wool, wheat, oats, oilseeds, poultry, rice, vegetables, fishing including oyster farming, and forestry including wood chips. Bananas and sugar in the north.

Wools are produced on the Northern Tablelands as well as prime lambs and beef cattle. The cotton industry is centred in the Namoi Valley in northwestern New South Wales. On the central slopes there are many orchards, with the principal fruits grown being apples, cherries and pears. However, the fruit industry is threatened by the Queensland fruit fly which causes more than $28.5 million a year in damage to Australian crops.

About 40,200 hectares of vineyards lie across the eastern region of the state, with excellent wines produced in the Hunter Valley, with the Riverina being the largest wine producer in New South Wales.

Port Stephens is the number one institute for aquaculture research in Australia. NSW is a major player in aquaculture production and with the novel trend of substituting the traditional fish meal with insect meal from selected species (the prospects of our vision are applying into that sector as well).

Since the 1970s, New South Wales has undergone an increasingly rapid economic and social transformation. Old industries such as steel and shipbuilding have largely disappeared; agriculture remains important. Tourism has also become important, with Sydney as its centre, also stimulating growth on the North Coast, around Coffs Harbour and Byron Bay.

As Australia's most populous state, New South Wales is home to a number of cultural institutions of importance to the nation. Australia's largest opera is headquartered in Sydney.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

801150

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

8023700

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Environment: 

The recent droughts that devastate primary production in NSW create new challenges and opportunities in the selection of crops and water use. Alternative food production and recycling system are necessary to mitigate the loss of valuable resources, ensure that recycling is utilized and implemented appropriately, and reuse of produced energy in the food chain systems is integral to the food production systems. 

Diets:

A Typical Australian diet consists of the consumption of fruits, vegetables, grains, meat, discretionary food and beverages.

However, 99 per cent of Australians indulge in junk food and skimping on their vegetable intake. About one-third of Australians’ energy is from discretionary foods. Less than1 in 10 adults met the recommendations for daily vegetable consumption in 2017–18. More than 7% of the total burden of disease in Australia in 2015 was due to poor diet.

Economics:

The Australian agribusiness environment undergoes a rapid change, influenced by a combination of market demand, drought and global warming and increased demand for water and land use for production industries. With a total output of 16 B $ for 2018-2019, the diversity of primary production is under direct threat from the above factors. Indicatively industries like rice cotton and wheat encounter a dramatic drop in output by 50-90% during last years. The economy of NSW that depends on primary industries will be in need of major biotechnology advances to cope with increased demand and the new realities of climate and economy.

Culture: 

The traditional use of insects is something that Australia has pioneered for millennia but modern food systems do not account for. The Native Aboriginal populations that thrived in living in some of the harshest climates on the face of the Earth had mastered the use of many species of caterpillars and grubs, and concepts like permaculture and minimal land and water use for food production were utilized since the dawn of time.

Technology: 

Our knowledge in insect artificial rearing and strain selection and modification has been dramatically improved during the last 50 years, with insights into their reproductive biology, their relationship with the environment and their nutritional needs. The latest technology is available to achieve genetically enhanced strains, however, IP constrains and commercial hardels may become barriers in this process.

Policy:

Climate change – More droughts, Bushfires, temp shift

Increasing demand for quality and protein

Environment awareness - Reduced tox chemicals and pollution

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Environment

The recent droughts that devastate primary production in NSW create new challenges and opportunities in the selection of crops and water use. Alternative food production and recycling system is necessary in order to mitigate the loss of valuable resources, ensure that recycling is utilized and implemented appropriately, and reuse of produced energy in the food chain systems is integral to the food production systems. Staple diets that traditionally have been utilized for food and feed are becoming increasingly difficult to cultivate, and commodities like wheat and beef are now more expensive for this reason. Our proposition for the innovative use of insects in many levels of food production (starting from pollination of crops to pest management, and recycling of organic byproducts and remains) is a far superior food security model and much more resilient to climate change.


Diet

Extensive use of specialty insects for food production will have a positive impact on the diet of Australians as well.

The above will be achieved by reducing the cost of production through better agricultural practices that increase the efficiency of the food system, ultimately reducing the shelf price if the fresh produce.

In combination with the correct policy, the above will result in better dietary choices and a healthier lifestyle.


Economics:

The use of improved strains of insects drives better efficiencies in food systems making business models more feasible and allows higher gains and positive income to boost economic growth.


Culture: 

The NSW is a place within Australia where ancient knowledge about entomophagy can help dramatically to develop modern food security systems. Our business model is informed by the traditions of native populations from around the globe validated and adapted by the latest scientific evidence and knowledge (see below under technology).


Technology: 

Our knowledge in insect artificial rearing and strain selection and modification has been dramatically improved during the last 50 years, with insights into their reproductive biology, their relationship with the environment and their nutritional needs. With the current state of the art, we can design specialized rearing protocols and mass rear insects in such a way that it can produce certain protein-lipid ratios in every selected life stage, with very high efficiency in the turnover rate. Similar concepts apply for insects as pollinators or SIT releases.


Policy:

Factors affecting the food system:

Climate change – More droughts, Bushfires, temp shift

Special studies on the effect of climate change are conducted now, with

Increasing demand for quality and protein

Food Safety (vs. food security)

Environment awareness - Reduced tox chemicals and pollution

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Designing alternative food systems is a difficult task, which often entails a deep understanding of intricate relationships among organisms and the environment, especially for productive agroecosystems.

Beneficial insects of all families are a major and important contributor in our life.  They are encountered in a variety of different food systems around the world and with great potential for the food production of NSW. These species perform valuable services such as pollination, biological control as part of IPM (integrated pest management), control of pest population in SIT (Sterile Insect Technique) programs and organic waste management as part of vertical food systems in urban and rural areas.

For decades, these methodologies have been used with different species of insects without a major genetic selection for optimizing their tasks. In recent years, new genetic methodologies such as CRISPR-CAS 9 and Prime Gene Editing, are allowing scientists to target traits, with improved and rapid selection, which in time will enable these genetically improved species to perform better in their tasks. Insect Biotechnology is one of the most rapidly emerging fields of applied biology during the last 5 years.

The proposed idea is utilizing both traditional and genetically modified strains of a great variety of insects’ functions to help agricultural productivity.  We aim to help the NSW population to enter a new era of primary productivity with new innovative approaches in the way that resources are utilized.

We anticipate a paradigm shift in the food production model from the use of insects in all stages of production and recycling, thus improving the living standards of the NSW population with better, healthier and more environmentally sustainable food available. The novelties emanating from beneficial insect use can transform in many ways the quality of life of the local population and provide increased economic returns and a healthier lifestyle.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

The year 2050 will be a significant landmark in the history of both the environment and the human population.

With the current rates of increase, the human population will exceed 9 billion, and the pressure on the agroecosystems for natural resources use is going to be immense.

Furthermore, climate change is becoming evident in its manifestations, and this could lead to even more chaotic behavior of the ecosystems that support human life on earth. A revision of the productive model is necessary for ensuring a more rational and sustainable use of precious resources (cultivatable land, water, nutrients). Our proposition on a business model that will focus on use of Beneficial Insects addresses multiple of those challenges, ensuring both food and environment security for NSW and Australia.

HexaQuest™ uses and commercializes innovative technologies in order to allow for improved operations that will benefit the majority of stakeholders in food systems. Our aim is to improve efficiencies in multiple levels of production, distribution, consumption and recycling of food in NSW with the use of specialized species and strains of insects.  As a private enterprise, we envisage that the major driver for change will be the economics of food production. The economic benefits from extensive use of insects will trickle down to all levels of the food system and affect positively both urban and rural areas of NSW. Below we explain how each of the themes presented before will be addressed by HexaQuest™ unique proposition:

The recent droughts that devastated primary production in NSW created new challenges and opportunities in the selection of crops and water use. Alternative food production and recycling system are necessary in order to mitigate the loss of valuable resources, ensure that recycling is utilized and implemented appropriately, and reuse of produced energy in the food chain is integral to the food production systems. Staple diets that traditionally have been used for food and feed are becoming increasingly difficult to produce, and commodities like wheat and beef are now more expensive for this reason. Our proposition for the innovative use of insects in many levels of food production (starting from pollination of crops to pest management, and recycling of organic byproducts and remains) is a far superior food security model and much more resilient to climate change. The use of insects in the food system can also reduce the use of pesticides, fertilizers and other agrochemicals. Insects can also reduce the level of required energy that is currently used for organic waste management.

The extensive use of specialty insects for food production will have a positive impact on the diet of Australians as well. That will be achieved by reducing the cost of production through better agricultural practices that increase the efficiency of the food systems, ultimately reducing the shelf price of the fresh produce. In combination with the correct policies and communication plans, it will result in better dietary choices and a healthier lifestyle for the community.

The use of improved strains of insects drives better efficiencies in food systems making business models more feasible and allows higher gains and positive income to boost economic growth. HexaQuest™ proposition has the potential to create a multitude of new ventures in NSW food scene, hence driving R&D, innovation and better employment opportunities for rural and urban areas alike. The added value from cleaner and healthier agricultural products and extensive use of insects for recycling could also support parallel activities such as agritourism and production and export of new food products such as insects as food and feed. Byproducts derived from insects can be further processed to products such as fertilizers, soil conditioners and even high-value specialty biomedical materials (e.g. chitinase). Overall, we aim to substantially diversify and futureproof the economy of NSW.

The traditional use of insects is something that Australia has pioneered for millennia but modern food systems do not account for. The Native Aboriginal populations that thrived in living in some of the harshest climates on the face of the Earth had mastered the use of many species of caterpillars and grubs, and concepts like permaculture and minimal land and water use for food production were utilized since the dawn of time. The NSW is a place within Australia where ancient knowledge about entomophagy can help dramatically to develop modern food security systems. Our proposition also accounts for the traditional use of the insects in NSW, promoting entomophagy and nutrition from diverse resources, and exemplifies the notion of circular economy in food systems.

Our knowledge in insect artificial rearing and strain selection and modification has improved during the last decades, with insights into their reproductive biology, relationship with the environment and nutritional needs. With the current state of the art, we can choose an insect species suitable for a specific function (e.g. consumption by fish or other animals), design specialized rearing protocols and mass rear it in such a way that it can produce a specific nutritional profile in selected life stages, with very high efficiency in the turnover rate. This also means very low waste and by-products at the end of the production cycle, most of which can be recycled as well (e.g. fermented with the use of microorganisms) or dried and pelleted for consumption. Similar concepts apply for insects as pollinators or SIT releases. Also, the new synthetic biology methods are very promising for designing novel strains of insects with enhanced characteristics (short developmental time, better protein content, more resilient to desiccation etc.). To date, not all this knowledge has been fully utilized, due to weak links between industry and research institutes and low-interest from food systems. This is where our vision can play a pivotal role in uniting the need for improved food systems with the current advances in biology and applied biotechnology.

In terms of policy, state and federal governments define the legislative framework in which food production systems operate in Australia. The responsibilities of the federal government lay in negotiating with external trade partners, while the states maintain a high level of authority to ensure compliance with the enforced policies and domestic trade. The use of insects in food systems poses both a challenge and an opportunity in terms of policy and strategy. For some areas of application (e.g. classic biological control agents), no major alterations are required, while for novelties such as genetically engineered strains or recycling agents, extensive amendments to the current licensing processes are necessary. HexaQuest™ envisages a close collaboration with the policy-making bodies in NSW and Australia to ensure that innovations are applicable within well-defined legislative frameworks. We can identify the food production sectors where licensing will be needed, and enable partners holding IP (research institutes, private sector, and governmental organizations) to achieve commercialization through fair agreements of intellectual property exploitation.

All the above positive aspects of the HexaQuest™ proposition are linked to NSW population well-being through multiple channels of governance and communication, briefly listed below:

§  NSW DPI (Department of Primary Industries)

§  Local Councils

§  Recycling companies

§  Primary producers

§  Packing houses

§  Trading companies

§  Research organizations and Universities

§  General public

Indicatively, some areas of NSW with distinct characteristics that are very suitable for our vision implementation in different levels: 

Sydney Metropolitan, with an area of 15.000 km2 and a population of ~4.4 million, it is the ideal setting for the use of insects as organic recycling agents. Black Soldier Fly strains can be selected and utilized for this purpose in recycling council-owned facilities.

Central Coast: an area of 1000 km2 and population of around 150000. Protected cropping can greatly benefit from the use of new improved strains of pollinators and biological control agents.

Hunter Valley: with 30.000 km 2 of vineyards and orchards, this part of NSW is ideal for extensive use of parasitoids and releases of sterile insects. The potential use of sterile insect Technique against livestock pests (blowflies, buffalo flies, midges) is envisaged as well.

We have a vision of commercializing co-created inventions for the benefit of the greater communities around us. We possess a deep knowledge of entomology and agribusiness and we have a clear view of the intersection of those sectors and their role in food systems. We also have established contacts with many governmental and private stakeholders that affect the policy and commercial operations of the food system in NSW.

Our proposition has immense transformative potential for the local food systems and can be an inspiring and game-changing factor for the Australian and global food production models. The commercialization of insects that benefit and positively affect human nutrition in NSW is an example of cutting-edge innovation that is both science-based and applicable within the current production structures. We aim for food security, improved efficiencies, environmental sustainability and long-term resilience.

We believe that if successful, the mission of HexaQuest™  will find imitators and it will be able to mobilize great forces of the food production systems and align them for tangible results that will affect the local economy and the health and well-being of the communities in Australia and many other countries. Finally, we anticipate that our proposition will produce an impact on the lives of thousands of people in Australia, and millions globally during the coming decades.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Website

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Photo of Giok P Chua
Team

Dror Dagan
Your BushFires is terrible
Let catch up soon to redesign the farming system for better
Giok