Science notes: Coming to a menu near you: Bugs?

  • Updated: June 29, 2013 - 4:58 PM

Bugs: the next nouveau cuisine?

They’re creepy. They’re crawly. And soon, they could be on your menu. A panel of experts discussed this week how insects could be used as a food source for a world population estimated to reach 8 billion by 2025.

The discussion was hosted by the Royal Netherlands Embassy and featured Marcel Dicke, chair and head of the Laboratory of Entomology at Wageningen University in the Netherlands; Daniella Martin, a bug blogger for her own website, GirlMeetsBug.com; and Michael Raupp, a professor of entomology at the University of Maryland and host of BugoftheWeek.com.

Currently, 70 percent of agriculture land is being used for livestock, Dicke said. But eventually, the demand for livestock will be too great for the land available. When that time comes, Dicke said people will have to turn to other, more sustainable sources of food.

Insects from more than 1,900 species form parts of the diets of roughly 2 billion people worldwide, according to a study by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The crunchy critters are a good source of protein, iron and calcium. Dicke said that to these 2 million people, insects aren’t just a source of food, they’re a delicacy — much like lobster and escargot are to Western culture.

Martin’s blog discusses recipes for cooking some of these insects, including caramel apples covered in mealworms; cabbage, snap peas and crickets; and a “bee-LT” sandwich, made with fried bee larvae.

Ancient horse’s DNA decoded

Researchers have unraveled the genetic code of a wild horse that loped across the frozen Yukon about 700,000 years ago, making it the oldest creature by far to reveal its DNA to modern science. Until recently, experts believed it was impossible to recover useful amounts of DNA from fossils that old. The previous record holder for oldest genome belonged to a polar bear that lived more than 110,000 years ago. The horse sequence, described last week in the journal Nature, amounts to a dramatic increase in how far back scientists can peer into the biochemical history of advanced life.

The DNA was extracted from a 6-inch slice of a fossilized horse leg bone that was found nine years ago. Under normal conditions, DNA begins to degrade soon after death. But this bone was preserved in permafrost at Thistle Creek in Canada’s Yukon Territory.

Dating techniques revealed that the animal lived in an epoch when woolly mammoths, saber-toothed cats and giant beavers shared turf with ancestral humans.

The work “opens great perspectives as to the level of details we can reconstruct of our origins and the evolutionary history of every animal on the planet,” said study leader Ludovic Orlando of the Center for GeoGenetics at the Natural History Museum of Denmark.

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