Crickets – a new, protein-rich food on your plate
Thanks to a strong driving force regarding contribution to sustainable food provision from a global perspective, combined with valuable experience from a Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) project in Cambodia, Anna Jansson, professor of domestic animal physiology at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) developed an interest in crickets – an interest that inspired continued research into the protein-rich house cricket and formation of the company SciIns, whose offering is a breakthrough within the industry.
There is great interest in protein-rich foods, and in many parts of the world insects are seen as a possible source of protein. Crickets are nutritious insects. At the moment they are chiefly used as animal feed within the zoo industry, but they are also utilised as a foodstuff for humans. There are problems, however, and this is where the Swedish house cricket can play a major role.
“We’re talking about a much-feared virus that poses major problems for cricket breeders. The densovirus damages several tissues in the cricket, is highly contagious and can in the worst-case scenario eradicate entire colonies. What we’ve done is study the Swedish House cricket, and using our research results we’ve been able to establish that we have a cricket that’s completely free of viruses,” says Anna.
The discovery is a breakthrough within the industry.
“Yes, it's absolutely marvellous. In order to be able to offer breeders worldwide crickets that are guaranteed to be virus-free, we’ve started up the company SciIns, which will breed and sell house crickets for breeding purposes. These crickets will also be bred to grow and stay healthy on feed that is of no value as a foodstuff for humans. During autumn 2019 we will have a production plant up and running in Uppsala, and we’re expecting to be able to deliver the first virus-free crickets to customers as early as this year,” says Anna.
Problem-solver who sees opportunities
Compared with the animals Anna and her team usually use in their research, crickets are a bit out on a limb in terms of their size.
“Yes that’s true. My research concerns increasing the knowledge base regarding the way animals function and react to the environments and situations we keep them in, and how we can best manage them. And we’re often dealing with horses and their various roles – as pets, racehorses or grazing conservationists. The priority is for the animals to stay healthy, and for us to create sustainable global systems – both for individual animals and globally. These considerations are naturally also applicable to crickets, and we now also have the chance to create a sustainable food system that can be of great significance to global food production. Crickets are nutrient-rich, they can eat weeds and other matter that is of no value to anyone else.”
Even if it’s a big leap from cricket to horse, it is nevertheless absolutely natural that Anna is getting involved. She is inquisitive and creative, and finds it easy to think outside the box.
“I’ve got a lot of things on the go, and have started up several biodiversity projects – not with my biologist’s or ecologist’s hat, but driven by a vision of making the world a better place. Is there’s a problem, I want to be involved in resolving it.”
Is it relevant? Don’t hesitate!
Anna believes that progressing your research and getting it to benefit society is something many researchers dream of, and for those who have not yet had time for such dreams, being given a little push can arouse interest and thoughts about how your own knowledge can make a contribution within society.
“It’s important to consider whether progressing your research is relevant to you. It’s also important to know that support is at hand. For me and Åsa Berggren, who is my partner, the support from SLU Holding has been invaluable. It’s meant everything. Without that support the company would never have come into being. If you don’t have any personal experience of entrepreneurship you’ll lack knowledge about regulations, the company's obligations, regulatory requirements etc. Getting a little financial support also means a lot.”
And the support Anna and SciIns have received at Uppsala Innovation Centre (UIC) has meant a great deal.
“Through UIC we’ve gained insight that have allowed us to avoid many pitfalls. We’ve done our homework. Benefiting from the experience of others makes our own job easier. It’s absolutely vital. We have neither the time nor the commitment to do it on our own. We have to be hyperefficient. I have a post as SLU researcher, and that’s my main focus.”
As regards the company's future operations, Anna hopes her involvement will not be necessary in the way it is today.
Eat crickets? Absolutely!
“Looking a few years ahead, my vision is for there to be a new, nutrient-rich, high-protein foodstuff to put on people’s plates. I hope SciIns will by then have grown, and will no longer need my input. I wish to continue my work as a professor at SLU,” says Anna Jansson, professor of domestic animal physiology at SLU in Uppsala and one of the founders of the company SciIns.