Truvia, as a plant-based artificial sweetener, is toxic to fruit flies, a fact we now know thanks to the scientific work a sixth grader.
According to the new study, written by adult scientists and published in the journal PLOS One, an key ingredient found in Truvia, significantly shortens the lifespan of fruit flies that consume it — from an average of between 38 and 50 days to about five days.
It's important to note the researchers say their findings don't interfere with the existing body of works that suggests erythritol is safe for human consumption. (Erythritol has been FDA-approved since 2001, though the actual health benefits of "non-nutritive sweeteners" is still a matter of some debate.)
Despite this seeming grim finding, the researchers have a rather cheery approach to the whole thing, writing in their abstract that erythritol could be used as an environmentally friendly insecticide:
Many pesticides in current use are synthetic molecules such as organochlorine and organophosphate compounds. Some synthetic insecticides suffer drawbacks including high production costs, concern over environmental sustainability, harmful effects on human health, targeting non-intended insect species, and the evolution of resistance among insect populations. Thus, there is a large worldwide need and demand for environmentally safe and effective insecticides. Here we show that Erythritol, a non-nutritive sugar alcohol, was toxic to the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster... Our results demonstrate, for the first time, that erythritol may be used as a novel, environmentally sustainable and human safe approach for insect pest control.
The idea for the study, reports CBS News, came from a project done by the lead researcher's grade-school-age son. "I would have never studied it first without the initial inquisitiveness of a sixth grader," said Daniel R. Marenda, explaining that his son Simon decided to test the health benefits of Truvia when his parents decided to switch from sugar to artificial sweeteners three years ago:
Simon and his father went to the supermarket and bought every kind of sweetener they could find on the shelves. Then they went to Marenda's lab and prepared food for the flies that included different kinds of sweeteners. They put the flies in vials and fed them with the prepared food. After six days, Simon discovered that all the flies fed with Truvia were dead.
Simon, now in ninth grade, should definitely feel like he has some bragging rights. The paper's senior author, Sean O'Donnell, said of the study, “I feel like this is the simplest, most straightforward work I’ve ever done, but it’s potentially the most important thing I’ve ever worked on."
Next, the scientists plan to see which other insects — like termites, cockroaches, bed bugs and ants — they can kill with erythritol. If Simon's idea leads to a bed bug solution, we'll nominate him for a Nobel Prize.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.