Black Soldier Fly Larvae Adapt to Different Food Substrates through Morphological and Functional Responses of the Midgut

Int J Mol Sci. 2020 Jul 13;21(14):4955. doi: 10.3390/ijms21144955.


Modulation of nutrient digestion and absorption is one of the post-ingestion mechanisms that guarantees the best exploitation of food resources, even when they are nutritionally poor or unbalanced, and plays a pivotal role in generalist feeders, which experience an extreme variability in diet composition. Among insects, the larvae of black soldier fly (BSF), Hermetia illucens, can grow on a wide range of feeding substrates with different nutrient content, suggesting that they can set in motion post-ingestion processes to match their nutritional requirements. In the present study we address this issue by investigating how the BSF larval midgut adapts to diets with different nutrient content. Two rearing substrates were compared: a nutritionally balanced diet for dipteran larvae and a nutritionally poor diet that mimics fruit and vegetable waste. Our data show that larval growth performance is only moderately affected by the nutritionally poor diet, while differences in the activity of digestive enzymes, midgut cell morphology, and accumulation of long-term storage molecules can be observed, indicating that diet-dependent adaptation processes in the midgut ensure the exploitation of poor substrates. Midgut transcriptome analysis of larvae reared on the two substrates showed that genes with important functions in digestion and absorption are differentially expressed, confirming the adaptability of this organ.

Keywords: Hermetia illucens; diet composition; insect midgut; midgut transcriptome; post-ingestion regulation; waste management.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Animal Feed / analysis
  • Animals
  • Body Weight
  • Diet*
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / analysis
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / pharmacokinetics
  • Dietary Proteins / analysis
  • Dietary Proteins / pharmacokinetics
  • Diptera / genetics
  • Diptera / growth & development
  • Diptera / physiology*
  • Fruit
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Gene Ontology
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Intestinal Absorption
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism
  • Intestines / physiology
  • Larva
  • Nutrients / analysis
  • Nutrients / pharmacokinetics
  • Pupa
  • RNA-Seq
  • Transcriptome
  • Vegetables


  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Dietary Proteins