Researchers from IUPUI, the IU School of Medicine, Mississippi State University and Texas A&M AgriLife Research will explore the use of insects as food and feed in agriculture as a response to overpopulation, climate change and a shrinking food supply. The new Center for Environmental Sustainability Through Insect Farming, established under a $2.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation, will address a pressing need for alternative protein sources that are environmentally sustainable, says Christine Picard, an associate professor at IUPUI and one of the lead researchers on the project. The new center will partner with over 30 companies in the United States and abroad, including major food suppliers and insect farming pioneers. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, it’s estimated that traditional agriculture will fall about 40 percent short of the world’s needed food supply by 2050. Picard says that insect farming can provide a practical, economical and sustainable path for producing high-value protein and reducing agricultural waste. For example, an insect’s ability to convert agricultural byproducts into protein has the potential to reduce or eliminate organic waste in farming, Picard says. And these insect proteins are also suitable for use as feed for animals such as fish, poultry and swine, as well as for use in food products for consumption by pets and people, she says. The use of insects in agriculture will limit our impacts on the environment, with less land or water needed for production and reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and it will potentially reduce, or even eliminate, the demand for fishmeal or other agricultural products used in aquaculture and protein production, Picard says. And the results will help protect our oceans and improve land and air quality. As the research team addresses issues that currently hamper the expansion and evolution of insects as food and feed, IUPUI researchers will focus on the genetic aspects of insects, building in part on Picard’s earlier research using genetic analysis to show the potential of a mealworm species as a strong alternative source of protein for animals and humans.
In other news, despite the current surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, Americans are clamoring for a return to normal, and many are choosing to once again attend concerts, sporting events and more. But how can they stay safe doing so, and can mask requirements help curb the spread of COVID-19 at these events? A new study from researchers at the Regenstrief Institute, the IU Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI and Resolve to Save Lives examined how masks were worn at the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in Indianapolis, more commonly known as March Madness. Researchers found that just under three-fourths of attendees at five specific games wore masks correctly, despite there being a mask requirement in place. IUPUI’s Joshua Vest says even with public health agencies and the venue doing everything they could to encourage spectators to wear masks, their findings highlight the challenge of getting the public to follow mask requirements. Vest says with vaccination rates still low and COVID transmission ongoing, the more people who are correctly and consistently masked at large events, the better. The researchers found that masking behavior also varied greatly within different areas of the venue, further highlighting challenges in encouraging public health behaviors that reduce disease transmission. During the five games they observed, researchers observed more than 20,000 spectators and found that 74 percent of them were correctly masked. They found that females wore masks correctly much more frequently than males (80 percent vs 69 percent). The highest mask-wearing percentages were in concession areas and at entrances; correct mask-wearing dropped substantially in arena seating areas and in the upper deck seating areas. Regenstrief Institute President and CEO Peter Embí says this was one of the first studies to provide evidence on masking behavior at large indoor events, evidence that individuals, public health officials and policy makers need as we all work to stay safe and reduce disease spread, while also trying to enjoy events that have the potential to become super-spreaders.