How Do Black Soldier Flies Kill Microorganisms?

Although back soldier flies do not universally wipe out all microorganisms around them, they are well known for suppressing some of them. This may open all kinds of exciting opportunities for using them in medicine. However, pursuing these opportunities requires understanding the mechanisms responsible for microbial suppression. A recent paper looked at some of the antimicrobial chemicals produced by black soldier fly larvae.

Fahmy, L., Generalovic, T., Ali, Y.M., Seilly, D., Sivanesan, K., Kalmar, L., Pipan, M., Christie, G. and Grant, A.J., 2024. A novel family of defensin-like peptides from Hermetia illucens with antibacterial properties. BMC Microbiology, 24, 167.


The world faces a major infectious disease challenge. Interest in the discovery, design, or development of antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) as an alternative approach for the treatment of bacterial infections has increased. Insects are a good source of AMPs which are the main effector molecules of their innate immune system. Black Soldier Fly Larvae (BSFL) are being developed for large-scale rearing for food sustainability, waste reduction and as sustainable animal and fish feed. Bioinformatic studies have suggested that BSFL have the largest number of AMPs identified in insects. However, most AMPs identified in BSF have not yet undergone antimicrobial evaluation but are promising leads to treat critical infections.


Jg7197.t1, Jg7902.t1 and Jg7904.t1 were expressed into the haemolymph of larvae following infection with Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium and were predicted to be AMPs using the computational tool ampir. The genes encoding these proteins were within 2 distinct clusters in chromosome 1 of the BSF genome. Following removal of signal peptides, predicted structures of the mature proteins were superimposed, highlighting a high degree of structural conservation. The 3 AMPs share primary sequences with proteins that contain a Kunitz-binding domain; characterised for inhibitory action against proteases, and antimicrobial activities. An in vitro antimicrobial screen indicated that heterologously expressed SUMO-Jg7197.t1 and SUMO-Jg7902.t1 did not show activity against 12 bacterial strains. While recombinant SUMO-Jg7904.t1 had antimicrobial activity against a range of Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria, including the serious pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa.


We have cloned and purified putative AMPs from BSFL and performed initial in vitro experiments to evaluate their antimicrobial activity. In doing so, we have identified a putative novel defensin-like AMP, Jg7904.t1, encoded in a paralogous gene cluster, with antimicrobial activity against P. aeruginosa.