Nutritious cattle feed obtained from the worm that degrades unicel

The insect reinserts the carbon from this material into the food web. Its implementation would considerably reduce the amount of water used in agriculture. It won third place in the Santander X Prize.

Nutritious cattle feed obtained from the worm that degrades unicel
Unicel degrading worm produces nutritious cattle feed. Photo by Jinen Shah / Unsplash

In Mexico, 125,000 tons of unicel are consumed every year and the degradation of this product takes approximately 800 years. However, through the "Gusani" project, it can be reduced to two days, the time it takes for the mealworm (Tenebrio Molitor) to assimilate it and convert it into organic matter, both in feces and in its own body.

This, according to Diego Tonatiuh Hernandez Martinez, eighth-semester student of the Bachelor's Degree in Earth Sciences of the Faculty of Sciences (FC) of the UNAM, who is responsible for the breeding and manufacturing process of the product.

The university student indicated in an interview that organic matter is used to produce flour rich in protein, economical and sustainable, which is used as cattle feed. This is a development of a group of four students from three educational institutions.

For this work, Hernández Martínez, together with Salvador García Puebla and Laura Daniela Rivera Granados, from the Instituto Tecnológico de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey, as well as Mitzi Dayana Cerezo Pérez, from the Universidad Politécnica del Valle de México, won several awards, including third place in the Santander X Award, Lanza category, which consisted of advice and economic stimulus to continue their work. They also set up the biotechnology company "Gusani", with which they seek to promote the plan.

Hernández Martínez explained that the insect (which is found among rocks and trunks, or in grain stores), is placed in unicel boxes, which are used to transport perishable foods such as meat or fish, which are collected by some members of the team.

"When the unicel enters the digestive system of the Tenebrio Molitor, it breaks the carbon chains and 'rearranges' them to convert them into organic matter," he said.

The project they are carrying out, he added, could help reduce the carbon impact of unicel because it avoids producing more; in other words, "we reinsert" the carbon of this material into the food web.

"Additionally, we would reduce the amount of water used in agriculture, because what we are looking for is to replace soybean (the second cause of deforestation in the world) as the main food for livestock, which is what we want to achieve as a company," he said.

Hernandez Martinez said that even though for the moment they only focus on the production of feed for livestock, the flour can also be used to make food for humans, such as cookies or other products.

"It is a great source of protein, similar to that contained in cricket, it can even be handled as a food supplement for people who go to exercise at the gym, or simply as a new ingredient in the kitchen," he said.