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Sixth Grade Science Project Results in Study that Shows Sugar Substitute Kills Flies

Photo Credit: Dan Kitwood, Getty Images

One researcher said it is the simplest work he has ever done, and possibly the most important.

Sean O’Donnell, a professor at Drexel College in Pennsylvania, is the senior author of a research paper showing that a popular sugar substitute “may be an effective and human-safe insecticide.”

The substance is erythritol, which is a naturally-occurring substance in many fruits.  It is the main ingredient in products like Truvia, and it is considered a “generally safe” sugar substitute by the United States Food and Drug Administration.  It is approved for use in other countries as well.

Simon D. Kaschock-Marenda, one of the co-authors of the study published in PLOS ONE, inspired the research after testing the effects of different sugars on fly health for a sixth grade science fair project.  Yes, that is correct – it all started as a project for school.  Simon’s father Daniel Marenda is a biology professor at Drexel and supplied his son with “baby” flies for the experiment.

When Simon noticed that the flies in the Truvia vials died, the senior Marenda said that they must have done something wrong.  He told his son that they needed to repeat the experiment.  When the flies in the Truvia vials again died more formal research ensued.

The Drexel study showed that “(t)he flies consumed erythritol when sugar was available and even seemed to prefer it.  No other sweeteners tested had these toxic effects.”  Three years after the original sixth grade experiment the researchers say they are pursuing a patent on erythritol as an insecticide.

That has to be good news for Simon, now a ninth grader, who should be up for a sweet deal from Drexel College, and maybe a significant head start on his college fund.







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