The INSECT DOCTORS initiative involves eight universities and research centres in Europe that will train fifteen doctors who will study the conditions of insects subjected to mass rearing for later commercialisation. The contribution of the University of Valencia (UV) will be coordinated by professors Salvador Herrero and Joel González-Cabrera, both from the Department of Genetics and the ERI-Biotecmed and members of the Pest Biotechnology Control Group, who will train four specialists.
The research seeks to respond to the growing demand for insects in the market, aimed especially at the production of feed and the control of pests that affect agricultural plantations. In addition, the program focuses on the sale of insects intended for human consumption, a rising trend.
In this context, the project proposes to safeguard the health security of these animals, as well as improve their resistance to ailments. In the Valencian Community, one of the doctoral students in training will investigate methods to eradicate viral infections in the sterile male breeding facilities of the Mediterranean fruit fly, which has a serious impact on local agriculture, mainly in citrus crops.
The project is divided into a total of three thematic blocks. The first will deepen the study of the interactions between insects and their pathogens in order to determine the causes of the onset of diseases when they are raised massively. The second block focuses on understanding the molecular mechanisms of infections and on the development of new methodologies for the detection of pathogens as a way to prevent disease outbreaks. Finally, the increase in resistance against pathogens in insect populations will be investigated, to detect what nutritional adaptations can improve health in massively bred insects.
The initiative, which will be approached in a multidisciplinary way, is part of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie ITN (Innovative Training Networks) project, funded by the European Horizon 2020 program. The research will also be supported by European companies in the sector.