Bugging Out

A UF grad seeks to develop green technologies and end child malnutrition through bug-based food. 
Aaron Dossey headshot

Aaron Dossey with a stick bug in the UF Entomology and Nematology Department’s natural area. He received a $100,000 grant earlier this year for his research in bug-based food. Photo courtesy of Aaron Dossey.

Go ahead, munch on a mealworm.

Crunch on a cricket.

How about a lunch of larva?

A classic schoolyard dare in the U.S., eating bugs is taboo by Western standards. But it may be key to decreasing child malnutrition and improving worldwide health.

Supported and studied by a tight-knit community of researchers and bug-o-philes, the bug-based technologies field is getting more attention lately thanks to the efforts of Aaron Dossey (PhD ’06).

Dossey, a former U.S. Department of Agriculture research entomologist, has been fascinated by bugs and chemistry since he was a kid. Now he’s trying to make his passions pay off for the cause through the company he founded and a $100,000 grant he won.

Dossey started the All Things Bugs company to be eligible for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant he won in June. He will use the money to research using bugs as food to curtail child hunger in countries experiencing famine.

Farming bugs is cheaper, greener and healthier than farming traditional livestock, according to the company website. Bugs can be moved and processed more easily. Plus, they have the same vital nutrients as pigs and cows but don’t eat the same food humans eat.

Dossey can turn bugs such as mealworms, crickets and fly larvae into an edible paste, he told The Gainesville Sun in May. Mainstream commodities such as bug burgers and fruit fly sausage are within reach.

For some free publicity, Dossey, 34, has taken to the Internet with a Facebook page of high-quality insect images and a YouTube account. His videos vary from serious study, such as Dossey collecting a bug’s chemical defense for the “Life” BBC documentary series, to videos of bugs turned ultimate fighters. He says he may start an account on the Kickstarter fundraising website to channel his online presence into capital.

Dossey says his devotion to insects and chemistry came early in life. As a kid, he often went in his yard to look at bugs and birds. During a year’s stint in tee ball, he found looking at the grasshoppers in the field more interesting than the games.

Before his chemistry training, his lab was a bucket he used to mix substances to see what concoctions he could create.

Aaron Dossey in his lab

Aaron Dossey displays a freezer used for his research in his apartment. In the freezer are frozen insects and samples from his studies in insect chemical defense and drug discovery. He also occasionally keeps live local bugs on the shelves. Photo courtesy of Aaron Dossey.

Originally planning to become a politician or enroll in a naval academy, in high school he decided to make bugs and chemistry his career.

He decided to study biochemistry in college because he felt it would be a challenge. He says his high school experience with the subject consisted of a lackluster teacher, one chapter of his biology textbook and an exam everyone failed.

Dossey graduated from Oklahoma State University in 2001 before moving to Gainesville, where he still lives. At UF, he led the research team that used a new technique to analyze stick-bug venom. After graduating in 2006, he was a postdoctoral research associate for four years.

Along with conducting research, Dossey enjoys advising young scientists. He authored a U.S. bill for “National Postdoc Appreciation Week” and is a UF Postdoctoral Affairs Advisory Committee member.

On Dec. 5, he’ll receive a legacy award for his work on the committee, according to a Nov. 2 Office of the Provost and Senior Vice President news release.

As said on his company’s website, Dossey imagines his bug technology operation growing to include more agricultural and medicinal products.

While he’s concerned whether the operation will pay off and meet his goals, he says he’s happy with the challenges of his work.

“Such little has been done. Anything you do in the field is new,” Dossey says. “I think this is the real deal.”

Learn more

All Things Bugs is involved in a FedEx contest to win a $25,000 business grant. To support the company, vote on its contest page. You can vote once a day until Nov. 27.

For more UF insect news, see how UF entomologists released a beetle that eats an invasive weed species.

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