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Insect symposium coming to Michigan State University this week

Honey bee visiting a blueberry flower
Hannah Burrack
Honey bee visiting a blueberry flower

Michigan State University will host the first Excellence in Insect Science Symposium May 16-17. More than one hundred insect experts are expected to attend from some thirty U.S. states and several countries.

The theme of the symposium is “leveraging insect science for global grand challenges,” with a focus on the impacts insects have on climate change, agriculture, and human health among others.

Hannah Burrack, professor and chair of MSU’s Department of Entomology, said the goal of the symposium is to bring together people who are doing innovative research associated with insects.

“Insects are really critical to our understanding of how climate change is impacting agriculture and biodiversity,” Burrack said.

She said experts are already seeing declines in insect biodiversity globally, not only in harmful insects but also beneficial ones, such as pollinators and insects that keep pests under control.

Other topics covered at the symposium include how insects can impact human health both positively and negatively and using insects as food — including for animals and humans.

“We’re actually integrating insects into our symposium’s menu offerings,” Burrack said.

One of the event’s panelists is Joseph Yoon, a chef from New York City who runs a company called Brooklyn Bugs that promotes eating insects.

Burrack said incorporating insects into people’s diets can have many advantages.

“The footprint that you need to produce protein from insects, it’s going to be much smaller than the footprint you might need to produce protein from cattle, for example,” she said.

Incorporating insects into American diets does not need to be complicated.

“We can do substitutions of existing flour meals or protein powders that might be an ingredient in a normal recipe,” Burrack said.

For example, cricket flour could be substituted for regular flour to boost the protein content.

For the more adventurous eater, there are “recipes that might capitalize on insects themselves and actually highlight the fact that you’re eating insects,” she said.

Burrack said insects are also a good way to get kids fired up about science.

“One of the things I always tell people is I’m an entomologist because I never outgrew my creepy crawly phase,” she said. “For those of us who stay as entomologists, oftentimes we continue to be fascinated by both the science and the beauty of all of the insects around us”.

The public is welcome at several events, Burrack said, including visiting the MSU Bug House and sample bug-flavored ice cream from the MSU Dairy Store on Friday.

On Saturday, chef Joseph Yoon will talk about why people may want to include insects in their diet and how to do that. People will also have the opportunity to sample snacks with insect ingredients if they want.

Events that are open to the public (see the event website for more information):

  • Wednesday, May 15: trip to the Jennifer Angus art exhibit titled “flying jewels & other lofty insects” at Frederik Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids.  
  • Wednesday, May 15: movie night featuring the 1996 Disney movie James and the Giant Peach at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center. 
  • Friday, May 17: MSU Bug House is partnering with the Ohio State University Bug Mobile to offer hands-on activities with insects. Bug-flavored ice cream from the MSU Dairy Store will be available. 
  • Saturday, May 18: renowned New York City-based chef Joseph Yoon will talk about cooking with insects and why people might want to do that. Various snacks with insect ingredients will be available. 

The East Lansing Art Festival and MSU Arts and Crafts Show are also occurring in East Lansing on Saturday and Sunday, May 18-19.

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