A sixth grader who wanted to find out how safe Truvia and other artificial sweeteners are may have uncovered a human-safe insecticide that effectively kills off fruit flies, researchers say.
When fruit flies are feed food including eyrthritol, the main component of Truvia, or the sweetener itself, they die much sooner that flies that are fed with other sweeteners, CBS News reported.
According to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE
, flies that ate Truvia died in about 5 8 days, while flies that ate other sweetners lived between 38.6 and 50.6 days.
"The more you get them [fruit flies] to consume erythritol, the faster they die," Sean
O'Donnell, a professor of biology at Drexel University in Philadelphia, told CBS.
The sweetener has been proven safe for human consumption and more research is needed before it can be used to control fruit flies, scientists said.
The then-sixth-grader who found out about Truvia's secondary use, Simon Kaschock-Marenda, is the son of one of the researchers, and scientists have been studying his idea for three years.
"I would have never studied it first without the initial inquisitiveness of a sixth grader," said the boy's father, Daniel Marenda, who co-authored the study.
After Marenda, an associate professor of biology at Drexel, and his wife decided to switch to artificial sweeteners, their son decided to study the substances' effects for his science fair project and decided to test them on flies.
The boy and his father bought all types of artificial sweeteners they could find and used Marenda's lab to prepare food for the flies.
After putting the flies in vials and feeding them the prepared food, they found that all the flies that had eaten Truvia were dead, but the other flies that ate other sweeteners were still living.
Marenda and his colleagues then picked up on the boy's research, and after completing their own study, they found that the Truvia-stuffed flies died much more quickly.
The researchers are now attempting to develop their findings into a human-safe pesticide that can be used to kill not only fruit flies, but other insects as well.
"We are not going to see the planet sprayed with erythritol and the chances for widespread crop application are slim," O'Donnell told Discovery.com
. "But on a small scale, in places where insects will come to a bait, consume it and die, this could be huge."
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