Utilisation of black soldier fly frass in agriculture as organic fertiliser
Black soldier fly have become an important agricultural insect as they are a renewable and environmentally conscious source of protein for use in animal feed. Black solider flies are capable of utilising a wide variety of waste substrates in order to gain biomass with comparable nutrition to soy protein. A product produced during this process is a fine fertiliser composed of insect waste and chitin. Black soldier flies produce a wide array of bioactive components during the process of digestion. These compounds include fungicidal and bactericidal compounds, pigments such as melanin bonded to chitin and the presence of frass can be a deterrent to pest insects such as aphids and can form as a natural biocontrol mechanism to protect crops grown in frass. In addition to this frass is comparable to chemical fertilisers with high nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium contents which aid in plant growth and development. The frass is also capable of much higher nutrient retention avoiding mineralisation of carbon and nitrogen making it accessible to crops for longer and increasing plant growth. This retention also leads to a lower risk of eutrophication and leaching into soil. (Kagata and Ohgushi, 2011)
Environmental and chemical properties
Insect frass is an economically viable and sustainable source of soil enriching material and is comparable to traditional fertiliser in terms of mineral content containing 3.07% Nitrogen, 0.64% phosphorous and 0.39% potassium. This sustainable and beneficial enhancer is documented to modify the soil microbiome and plant behaviour due to the presence of insect derivatives particularly chitin which can result in pest deterrence and promotion of beneficial soil bacteria leading to increased plant growth that are in contact with frass (Poveda, et al. 2019). Frass also results in much less terrestrial and aquatic acidification and greenhouse gas emission than chemical fertilizer (Smetana, et al. 2019). Black soldier flies have been speculated to be one of the largest and most rapidly developing producers of frass due to the beneficial qualities in domestic and agricultural settings associated with the product that are unique to the species. The chemical and nutrient characterisation of black soldier fly frass shows that the material is suitable for use as a fertiliser. The analysis shows a pH level of 6.95 and a good balance of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium with an average content of 1.49,0.98,1.03 which is similar to other organic manures currently used. The frass was also found to have toxic and essential metal concentrations within the legal limits for use. Frass derived from black soldier fly has been shown to have agronomic properties both macro and micronutrients which make it an excellent organic, bio-fertiliser without need for treatment prior to use. (Salomone et al., 2017). The use of frass has many environmental advantages due to the high retention of nutrients within the frass which was demonstrated to retain carbon dioxide and nitrates in the soil and preventing mineralisation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions (Lovett et al., 2002). Black soldier fly frass also prevents atmospheric loss of nitrogen and groundwater con¬tamination through the nitrogen fixation by the bacteria present in it (Lovett et al., 2002).
The use of frass is estimated to reduce terrestrial acidification through reduction in sulphur dioxide. It is estimated that per kilogram of conventional fertiliser replaced by frass there is a reduction of 0.265 g of sulphur dioxide released which greatly improves soil fertility and maintains soil pH. Frass also reduces aquatic acidification in a similar manner relative to the production impact of chemical fertiliser. A slower release rate of Nitrogen or other nutrients could be beneficial if it reduces the amount of nutrients lost from cropland due to runoff. A kilogram of frass requires approximately 12.5 kg of CO2 equivalent less than conventional fertilize. Aquatic eutrophication was approximately the same when using black soldier fly frass and conventional chemical fertilizers. (Schmitt and de Vries, 2020). The biostimulant properties of insect byproducts such as chitin in the frass have conclusively been shown to improve plant resistance to pests, which could lead to a reduction in our reliance on pesticides could have important consequences for biodiversity. Applying frass also introduces organic material, not included in chemical fertilizers. Similarly, frass research finds that the soil microbiome becomes more diverse when frass is applied, it’s application would result in the additional benefits that soil biodiversity increases in our agricultural ecosystems. (Schmitt and de Vries, 2020) It has been reported that the use of a small amount of black soldier fly frass leads to increased plant size with more flowers which attracts more pollinators and produced more seeds when Brassica nigra was grown ( Barragán-Fonseca, et al. 2019). Similar results were obtained for the growth of other crop plants such as lettuce which grew larger when grown in frass (Suantika, et al. 2019, Setti, et al. 2019). Due to the similarity in composition to chemical fertilizer it was found that cabbages grown in frass were comparable and had more leaves when compared to chemical fertilizer. The biomass and the dry mass between cabbages grown on the insect derived frass and the commercial fertilizer showed no statistical difference. This suggests that the insect derived frass can be an alternative to chemical fertilizers. It may be immediately applied in agricultural fields (Choi et al. 2009).
The use of the black soldier fly can in part solve the food waste problem and the abuse of the chemical fertilizers. It is expected to see more green technologies. Using beneficial insects will be one of the technologies and one of good preparations for green future (Choi et al. 2009). Chitin found in black soldier fly frass through the shedding of the gut lining is found in the frass produced by the insect following breakdown of feeding substrate. This chitin can be molecularly bonded to the bioactive compound melanin. Melanin has many biological functions. Reactive quinone intermediates in the melanin biosynthetic pathway exhibit antibiotic properties and the polymer is an important strengthening element of plant cell walls and insect cuticle. Light absorption by melanin has several biological functions, including photoreceptor shielding, thermoregulation, photoprotection, camouflage and display. Melanin is a powerful cation chelator and may act as a free radical sink (Riley, 1997). The effect of melanin on plant growth has been documented but not fully explored or implemented. Melanin has also been shown to improve soil fertility through electrolysis activity the Methods of fertilizing soil, and of increasing a crop yield , plant growth , and rate of seed germination using melanin to catalyze the electrolysis of water. The electrolysis of water causes the release of diatomic hydrogen into the soil, resulting in fertilization of the soil . Also provided are fertilized soil compositions The intrinsic ability of melanin to split the water molecule into hydrogen and oxygen upon absorption of electromagnetic energy , such as light energy (H.solus 2019). The processing of insect remains makes it possible to obtain chitin–melanin and melanoprotein complexes. The physicochemical and biological properties of these complexes and their availability suggest that they can be widely used in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries for the production of antioxidant, photo- and radioprotective preparations, biological additives with unique sorption properties, as well as in agriculture as inducers of plant resistance to different phytopathogens (Kurchenko et al., 2006). In addition to this Plant chitinase which are found in increased abundance when grown in the presence of chitin are also thought to be involved in regulating the embryogenesis process (Grover, 2012), in seed formation, but their exact function and the effect of exogenous chitin addition on this process remains unclear. The germination of seeds has been shown to be improved in a range of crops following chitin-based treatments including maize (Guan, Hu, Wang and Shao, 2009) and wheat (Bhaskara Reddy, Arul, Angers and Couture, 1999). In these studies chitosan accelerated germination and increased the percentage of seeds germinating (Sharp, 2013). In relatively low fertility soil, it was found that application of frass supported commercial yields of, bok choi, lettuce and potatoes. Frass provided the nearly twice the level of available soil nitrogen across the time span of the incubation trial compared with composted poultry litter. The release of nitrogen from frass was rapid with much of it becoming available by day 14. By day 56 available nitrogen level from frass was still increasing, whereas the nitrogen levels of the other fertilizers had leveled off. Frass contributed the most potassium to the soil of the fertilizers studied, although the amount narrowed to within the range of the composted poultry litter by day 56. These results suggest that the exchangeable potassium becomes available soon after application. First planting marketable yields of lettuce and bok choi were greatly affected by frass application, The marketable yield of the bok choi and lettuce plantings indicates a significant increase in yield in the treated plots compared to the control plots which experienced high mortality. (temple et al 2013)
Plant defence against pathogen and pests
The use of frass has the potential to elicit defensive properties to plants grown within it due to the activation of the plants immune system and upregulation of the enzyme chitinase which is shown to be effective against many fungal pathogens and pest insects. It has been demonstrated that frass can aid in plant defences against pythium which causes blight and turfgrass disease which is a leading causal agent in crop failure. This is due to the ability of frass to prevent bioaccumulation of the pathogen through the promotion of good soil bacteria such as nitrogen fixing bacteria. Chitin found in frass is also suggested to trigger the immune receptors of plants preventing pathogen interaction (Zahn, 2017). The presence of chitin in soil has been found to elicit many biochemical and molecular defence mechanism in plants through interactions with immune response units leading to DNA damage, chromatin
Alterations, increases in cytosolic Ca2+ (Zuppini et al., 2004), activation of MAP-kinases (Yin, Zhao and Du, 2010), oxidative burst (Paulert, Ebbinghaus, Urlass and Moerschbacher, 2010), callose apposition (Köhle et al., 1985), increase in pathogenesis-related gene mRNA, PR protein synthesis (Loschke, Hadwiger and Wagoner, 1983), phytoalexin accumulation, hypersensitive response (Hadwiger and Beckman, 1980), and in some systems, synthesis of jasmonic acid and abscissic acid and accumulation of hydrogen peroxide (Lin et al., 2005) (Hadwiger, 2013). These alterations prime the crop plant to enable a robust defence against invasive pathogens and pests resulting in higher yield as fewer plants are destroyed by disease and herbivorous insects. The presence of chitin is also known to reduce pest populations such as aphids and other herbivorous insects such as wireworm larvae. Black soldier fly frass was found to be capable of naturally deterring many insect pests including beetle larvae which were shown to be reduced when insect frass was present in the soil. Many species including Agriotes criddlei , A . lineatus A . mancus , A . mellillus , A . obscurus , A . sputator , Aeolu mellillus , Athous sp . C . cylindriformis , C . destructor , Clobata , C . morula , Ctenicera sp . H . abbreviatus , H . nocturnus Hemicrepidius sp . , L . agonus , L . califomicus , L . canus Limonius sp . M . communis , and Melanotus sp were found to be reduced when in an environment containing frass. With only a 10% inclusion of frass these insect species were reduced by 99% which reduced crop damage to corn ,lettuce and bok choi ( Vickerson et al., 2017) (temple et al 2013). It was also found that the presence of chitin in soil can stimulate ecological systems by reducing pest pressure. Frass from black soldier flies increased the amount of parasitoid wasps on brussels sprout plants these wasps then aided in reducing the crop pests and ensuring crop survival (Zande, et al. 2019). A hypothesis put forward by the researchers for this effect is that the plants react to the insect materials in the frass by releasing volatiles signals to the parasitoids that insects are present which they can parasitize. There is also evidence that seed treatment with chitin containing frass increases the presence of plant antibodies through stimulation of the immune system this was found to impact Agrotis ypsilon, soybean pod borer and soybean aphids in which there was a observed 80% decrease when chitin was present in the soil. The treatment also lead to higher seed germination, plant growth and soybean yield per plant (Zeng, Luo and Tu, 2012). Chitosan, a chitin derivative has been found to show strong insecticidal activity in some plant pests. It was found that a chitin derivative (N-(2-chloro-6-fluorobenzyl-chitosan) caused 100% mortality of larvae of the cotton leafworm, Spodoptera littoralis that consumed it when incorporated into an artificial diet at 5 g per kg. (Rabea et al., 2005) Despite these positive results and the ubiquitous nature of insect pests, there are still only a limited number of studies on the effects of chitin derivatives on insect pests of plants. Of the reports published in peer-reviewed journals effective control with chitosan has been demonstrated for insect pests in the orders Hemiptera including aphids and Lepidoptera species (Badawy et al 2012)
When plants are grown in the presence of chitin the plant is essentially tricked into responding to an insect attack. Much like a vaccination in humans, this raises the plant’s systematic induced resistance system, making respond faster and more effectively when a genuine pest attacks. In this way, it is thought that insect frass can deter pests without the need for chemical intervention, by harnessing the natural immune systems found in plants (Kaku et al., 2006). In this way frass serves as a bio-repellent towards common crop pests. Bio-repellents are often seen as preferable of conventional chemical pesticides, as they circumvent many common issues such as harm to key pollinators. Black Soldier Fly frass was shown to contain 14.52% chitin as a percentage of total dry mass. This is higher than other insect frass products commercially available, such as mealworm frass which is marketed as containing 10%. The higher chitin content found in Black Soldier Fly frass would suggest it would make an effective bio-repellent. Aphids are among the most destructive pests on cultivated plants in temperate regions. They can cause yellowing, mottled leaves, stunted growth, curled leaves, browning, low yields and even death in plants, and therefore are a prime target of many pesticides (Jusoh and Norton, 1987). In inoculation trials over 9.4 times fewer aphids were found in Frass compared to traditional fertilisers inoculation. (bioboost 2019). Chitin has been shown in a number of studies to be potent elicitors of plant defences, which in turn have allowed plants to resist or tolerate a range of diseases. The findings that diseases can be controlled using chitosan suggest that its effects are sufficiently strong to match up to other elicitors. These findings, combined with the relative low cost of chitin compared to other types of elicitors, means chitin-based products hold promise commercially to protect crops in large scale agriculture. Various studies have analysed the defenses activated by chitin and include the production, release, and/or activation of phytoalexins, phenolics terpenes, and reactive oxygen species (Kuchitsu, Kosaka, Shiga and Shibuya, 1995). Cellular changes detected following chitin derivative application include membrane depolarization resulting in alterations in ion fluxes and cytoplasmic acidification (Sharp, 2013). In addition to biochemical defenses, chitin addition has also been found to induce the formation of physical barriers to attack including; the deposition of callose and lignin and the formation of tyloses. These physical barriers allow for quick wound formation and sealing in order to compartmentalise an infection. This compartmentalisation of wounds and infection sites is an especially important defense response in woody perennials to prevent pathogens travelling systemically around trees. The induction of programmed cell death in the hypersensitive responses in the epidermis (Vasil’ev et al., 2009) has also been observed following chitin treatment, and this provides both a physical and biochemical barrier to further infection of pathogens in herbaceous tissues. (Sharp, 2013) Suppressive bioassays showed that garden cress damping-off caused by S. minor was significantly reduced by Black soldier fly frass. It has shown that the use of agro-industrial by-products for soil amendment leads to an increase of bacterial populations, mainly r selective strategists, which provide unfavourable growth conditions of R. solani. These results that resident microbial communities could determine long-term biocontrol of plant pathogens. However, a greater in-depth understanding of the existing interaction mechanisms among biocontrol agents with the host plant and pathogens is still required. The resident microbial community was shown to be the major factor for biological control of pathogens in organic matrix, through several antagonistic mechanisms related to the ecological relationship between microbes (Hadar, 2011). In addition, fungal populations were reported as the main contributors of biological suppressiveness in organic matrix . (Setti et al., 2019)
Soil microbiome adjustments
Insect frass in addition to pest control and being a prime substitute for harmful chemical fertilizers contains useful bacteria that alter the microbiome of the soil and encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria which in turn reduces the presence of harmful and pathogenic bacterial species. Black soldier fly Frass contains bacteria of the enterococcus genus of which some species are capable of nitrogen fixation (Lin et al., 2012), which partake in the nitrogen cycle and assist in the plants’ uptake of nitrogen. The chitin found in the frass serves as a carrier material that supports the growth of nitrifying bacteria bacillus subtilis and increases the presence of the bacteria by 5.0 log points. This was found to increase plant dry weight by 30% when chitin was present in the soil. (Manjula and Podile, 2001). The presence of chitin also encouarges the growth of endophytic bacteria such as bacillus subtillis which reduce the presence of aphids and fungal pathogens of plants through activation of biochemical agents such as peroxidase, polyphenol oxidase, phenylalanine ammonia-lyase, chitinase, b-1.3-glucanase and phenol accumulation in cotton, which favours reduction in aphid infestation. (Rajendran, Ramanathan, Durairaj and Samiyappan, 2011). Addition of frass to the soil can significantly increase microbial biomass, Higher microbial biomass and diversity may increase rates of organic Nitrogen mineralisation as well as immobilisation (Frost and Hunter, 2004) but may also regulate parasitic nematodes (Arancon et al., 2003) and plant diseases), all of which may ultimately increase crop yield.(Zahn 2017). Frass can alter the mychorrizal fungal colonisation of the soil And may in some cases help reduce salinity by accelerating cation exchange as well as leaching of salts away from the rhizosphere. There is now a substantial body of evidence that the addition of chitin alters the environmental conditions in the rhizosphere and phyllosphere to shift the microbial balance in favour of beneficial organisms and to the detriment of plant pathogens. Chitinolytic microbes produce extracellular chitinase enzymes to degrade chitin-rich tissues of other organisms. While many chitinolytic organisms are pathogenic or parasites, many are also saprotrophic/necrotrophic feeding off dead material or are in a mutualistic relationship with plants. The beneficial effect of chitin-based treatments to antagonistic bacteria is not restricted to B. subtilis, with both chitin and chitosan improving the control of Fusarium wilt in both tomato and cucumber plants when applied to the soil with a range of different species of chitinolytic microbes. Chitin addition improved the control of Phaeoisariopsis personata, the causal agent of late leaf blight in peanut, by the bacterium Serratia marcescens. In addition to direct antibiosis, the study by found that these applications also increased the activity of key plant defence enzymes ( Kishore et al., 2005). Addition of chitin to a soil-based growing media promoted the growth of Glomus claroideum mycelium and its colonization of the roots of a number of plant species. (Gryndler et al. 2003)Addition of chitin to soil at 1% eliminated plant-parasitic nematodes in the first planting of cotton and significantly reduced Meloidogyne incognita infestation in a second planting, confirming long-term nematode suppressiveness induced by this organic amendment. The chitin amendment was associated with an increase in fungal and bacterial populations, especially those with chitinolytic activity A major component of the suppressiveness of chitin amendments is believed to be biotic and several reports confirm an increased numbers of nematode antagonistic microorganisms associated with chitin-induced suppressive soils. Bacterial populations in amended soil were 30-fold higher than in the control and for fungal populations these differences were 200-fold. Following chitin-amendment, numbers of chitinolytic microorganisms were especially favoured due to the chitin amendment (Hallmann, Rodrı́guez-Kábana and Kloepper, 1999)
Black soldier flies have been known to produce antimicrobial peptides which help defend against bacterial and fungal pathogens. Some of these compounds can possibly be excreted into the frass produced by these insects and they have been proven to be effective against plant pathogens these compound shave been shown to be effective against certain soil bacteria such as Pseudomonas marginalis, Pseudomonas viridiflava, and Pseudomonas syringae (Park et al., 2015). Many of these antimicrobial peptides are produced by chitin. The only digestible form of chitin for plants is found in insect frass which allows plants to benefit and utilise these antimicrobial properties (sistrunk 2016).This forms a barrier by making mineral nutrients inaccessible to pathogens and inhibiting the production of mycotoxins. Trials were conducted that demonstrated the inhibition of growth of known fungal pathogens F. oxysporum and the R. solani fungi when frass was present (Wan, Zhang, & Stacey, 2008). This may be due to the fact thatFungal chitin has a very similar molecular pattern to insect chitin and fungal chitin is a well characterised pathogen associated molecular pattern in plants (Wan, Zhang and Stacey, 2008) meaning that the presence of chitin can activate the plants immune system to a low level which primes and strengthens the plants natural immunity to pathogens. Chitins antimicrobial activity can be attributed to its cationic properties and the disruption of potassium signaling in pathogens (El Hadrami, Adam, El Hadrami and Daayf, 2010) (Harish Prashanth and Tharanathan, 2007). Chitosan could also be acting by creating barrier films, chelating mineral nutrients making them inaccessible to pathogens, and preventing the release of mycotoxins from the pathogen (Xu, Zhao, Han and Du, 2007). Soil amendment with chitosan has repeatedly been shown to control fungal diseases in numerous crops, especially Fusarium wilts (Laflamme, Benhamou, Bussières and Dessureault, 2000) and grey mould (Ben-Shalom et al., 2003)
The use of black soldier fly frass has been proven to be yield comparable results to chemical fertiliser when growing commercial crops. In addition to this frass contains bioactive compounds such as chitin and melanin which have been shown to modify the soil microbiome to increase the presence of nitrogen fixing bacteria and prime the plants immune system to combat against plant pathogens and pests through upregulation of enzymes and compounds. Frass is a environmentally conscious choice as it reduces atmospheric leaching through high retention which in addition to being beneficial to the plant can reduce greenhouse emissions. Frass has great potential as a future fertiliser and may lead to a reduction in global pesticide use which will protect pollinators through targeted action against pest.
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