Science fair project might lead to new insecticide

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fruitflyWhen middle school student Simon Kaschock-Marenda tested the effects of different sugars and sugar substitutes on fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) for his science fair project, he stumbled upon what might be a new insecticide the sugar alcohol erythritol.

He found that the flies chose to eat food laced with erythritol even when given the choice of other sugars, including table sugar. Most important, flies consuming food laced with Truvia which contains erythritol lived an average of only 6 days, while those on other foods without erythritol lived from 39 to 51 days.

Collaborating with his father, a scientist at Drexel University and colleagues, Simon replicated the experiment in a more formal manner, and they published their results in the journal PLOS ONE. They compared the lifespans of fruit flies fed standard fly food, with those containing Truvia, Equal, Splenda, Sweet N Low, or PureVia, as well as with foods with sucrose and corn syrup. Of these, only Truvia had the life-shortening effects, since it was the only sweetener containing erythritol.

The utility of erythritol as an insecticide remains to be determined, but in their discussion the authors noted Our data set the stage for investigating this compound as a novel, effective, and human safe approach for insect pest control. We suggest targeted bait presentations to fruit crop and urban insect pests are particularly promising.

ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava was enthusiastic about the possibilities of erythritol as an insecticide, saying This could be a major step forward for pest control if it works on other insects as well as on fruit flies. Erythritol is not at all harmful to people, so this could be a great discovery! If it worked on roaches, for example, New York City would likely corner the market on the stuff!