Genetic and phenotypic consequences of early domestication in black soldier flies (Hermetia illucens)

Rhode, C. ; Badenhorst, R. ; Hull, K. L. ; Greenwood, M. P. ; Bester-van der Merwe, A. E. ; Andere, A. A. ; Picard, C. J. ; Richards, C. (2020-06-10)

CITATION: Rhode, C. et al. 2020. Genetic and phenotypic consequences of early domestication in black soldier flies (Hermetia illucens). Animal Genetics. 51:752-762. doi:10.1111/age.12961

The original publication is available at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/13652052

Article

The black soldier fly, Hermetia illucens, is an emerging biotechnological agent with its larvae being effective converters of organic waste into usable bio-products including protein and lipids. To date, most operations use unimproved commercial populations produced by mass rearing, without cognisance of specific breeding strategies. The genetic and phenotypic consequences of these commercial practices remain unknown and could have a significant impact on long-term population viability and productivity. The aim of this study was thus to assess the genetic and phenotypic changes during the early phases of colony establishment and domestication in the black soldier fly. An experimental colony was established from wild founder flies and a new microsatellite marker panel was developed to assess population genetic parameters along with the phenotypic characteristics of each generational cohort under captive breeding. The experimental colony was characterised by a small effective population size, subsequent loss of genetic diversity and rapid genetic and phenotypic differentiation between the generational cohorts. Ultimately, the population collapsed by the fifth generation, most likely owing to the adverse effect of inbreeding depression following the fixation of deleterious alleles. Species with r-selected life history characteristics (e.g. short life-span, high fecundity and low larval survival) are known to pose particular challenges for genetic management. The current study suggests that sufficient genetic and phenotypic variations exist in the wild population and that domestication and strain development could be achieved with careful population augmentation and selection during the early stages of colony establishment.

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