Metabolic response of yellow mealworm larvae to two alternative rearing substrates

Metabolomics. 2019 Aug 17;15(8):113. doi: 10.1007/s11306-019-1578-2.


Introduction: Mass insect rearing is becoming increasingly pursued by food and feed industry due to its high sustainability and low environmental impact. Yellow mealworm larvae (Tenebrio molitor) are conventionally reared on wheat bran (WB), but alternative substrates, such as several by-products of the agri-food industry, have shown good prospects for insect rearing.

Objectives: The objective of this study was to investigate on the metabolic and nutritional response of yellow mealworm larvae to dried brewer's spent grains (BSG) and WB used as rearing substrates.

Methods: Proximate, fibre and fatty acid compositions of durum WB and dried BSG were first characterized. Mealworm larvae were fed either WB (WB-L) or BSG (BSG-L) in a trial reproducing a scale rearing condition. Feed efficiency parameters together with proximate and FA composition were determined. Metabolic pathways affected by the dietary treatments were evaluated by means of a targeted metabolomics approach. Proton nuclear magnetic resonance (1H NMR) spectra were acquired on lipid and polar extracts of WB-L and BSG-L and then coupled to multivariate data analysis. Absolute quantitative 1H NMR data were carried out on selected metabolites.

Results: BSG-L exhibited better feed conversion ratio and efficiency in conversion of ingested food (P < 0.05) and almost half fat content (P < 0.001) than WB-L. BSG-L also showed higher ω-3 and ω-6 poliunsaturated fatty acids (P < 0.001) and lower content of monounsaturated fatty acids (P < 0.001) than WB-L. BSG-L mobilized body fat towards methylamine accumulation and led to enhanced trehalose catabolism.

Conclusions: Our findings are useful to gain knowledge on the metabolic features that finally affect growth and body composition in reared yellow mealworm larvae.

Keywords: Brewer’s spent grains; Insect; Metabolomics; Proton NMR; Tenebrio molitor; Wheat bran.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Feed
  • Animals
  • Dietary Fiber / administration & dosage
  • Dietary Fiber / analysis
  • Dietary Fiber / metabolism*
  • Fatty Acids / administration & dosage
  • Fatty Acids / analysis
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism*
  • Larva
  • Metabolomics*
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Proton Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Tenebrio


  • Dietary Fiber
  • Fatty Acids