C-Lab container Laboratory for the production of medicinal maggots in compromised healthcare settings

MedMagLabs prototyped a mobile medicinal maggot production laboratory in a converted 20-foot shipping container that can be set up just about anywhere to produce large numbers of high-quality medicinal maggots. Such a mobile laboratory is ideally suited to support field hospital operations or facilitate a provincial maggot therapy program in hard-to-reach regions.

MedMagLabs collaborated with Royal Wolf, Brisbane, to design and build the container laboratory. We briefed Royal Wolf on the specifications of the laboratory, some of which are discussed here. It was clear from the start that for a single container to house both the insectary and the laboratory, the two facilities needed to be separated in order to prevent cross contamination of the clean facilities in the laboratory from the insectary. Another important consideration was to vermin-proof the container because the insectary with sugary foods for flies would be an irresistible attraction primarily to ants. This meant that the C-Lab had to be elevated on moated feet to prevent ant access. The single-most important environmental variable is the temperature as it governs fly activity. Therefore, it was critical to the insectary operation that the air conditioning system is able to maintain a temperature range around 25 oC with minimums not lower than 20 oC and maximums not higher than 30 oC. Light levels needed to be adjustable with an ideal daylength for flies between 12 and 16 hours. The laboratory was to be fitted with a laminar flow cabinet, an incubator for sterility assurance work, a steam steriliser, fridge and freezer, and generous work bench area.

Download the blueprints for the C-Lab prototype as constructed by Royal Wolf. Note that the C-Lab was subsequently modified during the project period to improve temperature performance, increase light levels, and manage odour in the insectary. It was always expected that part of the project was to test and iteratively adjust the original build. Modifications included:

  • installation of a maggot rearing cabinet and air venting to expel malodorous air from the cabinet to the outside
  • diversion of the air conditioning airflow away from the cage shelf
  • installation of a bar heater and fan to both heat and circulate air in the insectary
  • installation of additional timer-controlled LED lights on lower three tiers of fly shelving

The images below (Copyright Royal Wolf) show the container laboratory during construction. Watch also Royal Wolf’s mini documentary on the development and construction of the C-Lab (also Copyright Royal Wolf).

Performance

Key performance metrics for the C-Lab were measured between July 2020 and March 2021, which included temperature performance, fly life history performance and egg production, as well as overall performance against the specs requested and general user friendliness of the insectary setup.

The laboratory part of the shipping container was less under scrutiny as the laboratory facilities have predictable performance. Nevertheless, it was important to assess how well workflows between insectary and laboratory integrated regarding efficiency and user friendliness for production staff.

Preliminary results

An article on the development of the C-Lab and performance results will be submitted for open publication in a peer reviewed scientific journal.

We have proven with this prototype that the production of medicinal maggots in isolated healthcare settings is feasible. With further improvements to the design and build, the C-Lab can becomes a field-ready solution for high-quality medicinal maggot production.

Temperature performance

Near continuous temperature logging between July 2020 and March 2021 has demonstrated that after minor improvements to the way the insectary was heated, cooled, and ventilated had been made, the temperature oscillates throughout the day but mostly stays within a comfortable range of 23 oC to 27 oC and never falling below 20 oC or exceeding 30 oC.

Fly performance

By the end of March 2021, a total of 91 colonies of Lucilia sericata medicinal flies were maintained in the insectary of the C-Lab. Each colony was stocked with 1000 flies, meaning that 91,000 flies called the C-Lab home over the 9 months testing period.

Each colony was given the opportunity to lay eggs twice a week, at least three days apart. At peak production, each colony produced between 2000 – 3000 mg of eggs per harvesting event which equates to approximately 30,000 to 40,000 eggs per colony per harvest. While there was colony decline over time, colonies stayed healthy and fecund for five to six weeks during which they produced eggs for three to four weeks.

The insectary environment as prototyped in the C-Lab provided environmental conditions conducive to fly health and high fecundity.

Vermin control

The moating of the C-Lab performed as intended and ants never entered the C-Lab via the ground. However, the C-Lab was positioned in part under the canopy of a native Australian fig tree which harbours a small, arboreal species of ant which continued to drop onto the container. The species is not aggressive or predatory and was not able to established a breeding colony on or in the container. However, ants entered the insectary and even the fly cages, where they generally aggregated in the fly water dishes, indicating their need for high humidity. They did not cause harm to the flies themselves. Thus, they posed more a nuisance to the insectary technician than a danger to the fly colonies.

(CC BY 4.0) Creating Hope in Conflict: A Humanitarian Grand Challenge content is provided under creative commons license CC BY 4.0. This applies specifically to the banner image, web text, and container images. The embedded video and container construction images have been provided by Royal Wolf and are (C) Royal Wolf as indicated in the text. The copyright for content on other pages of this site will vary.