Artificial Sweetener Could Be Used As a Safer Insecticide......
You catch more flies with honey than vinegar, it is said, but most people want to avoid catching flies at all. A study has found that a popular non-nutritive sweetener, Erythritol, the main component of the sweetener Truvia®, is toxic to Drosophila melanogaster flies in a dose-dependent manner and so may be an effective and human-safe insecticide.
A natural, non-toxic insecticide might be in your kitchen, a new study says.
In what started out as a middle school science project, scientists discovered that erythritol, the main ingredient in the artificial sweetener Truvia, is toxic to fruit flies.
This does not mean anyone using Truvia to sweeten their coffee or tea is in danger. Erythritol is a natural compound that is present in several types of fruit. It's sweet like table sugar but has almost no calories. It was approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a food additive in 2001 and many studies have shown humans have a high tolerance for the compound.
So, unlike synthetic insecticides, an erythritol-based insecticide would be nontoxic to humans and would not act as a pollutant, the researchers said. [10 of the Most Polluted Places on Earth]
Not only does the sweetener kill the flies, but they actually prefer it to other food choices. The researchers who conducted the study are now seeking to patent an erythritol-based insecticide.
"We are not going to see the planet sprayed with erythritol, and the chances for widespread crop application are slim," Sean O'Donnell, a professor of biology at Drexel University in Philadelphia who worked on the experiment, said in a statement. "But on a small scale, in places where insects will come to a bait, consume it and die, this could be huge."
The first part of the study came from a science project by Simon Kaschock-Marenda, who is now in ninth grade and is the son of Daniel Marenda, a biology professor at Drexel. The father-son team first tested the method on fruit flies raised in small vials in their home. They divided the flies into groups and fed them food mixed with the artificial sweeteners Truvia, Splenda, Equal, Sweet'N Low or Pure Via.
The flies that were raised on food containing Truvia had much shorter life spans than flies raised on the other sweeteners. Flies that ate food without Truvia lived between 38 and 51 days. But the average life span of flies raised on food with Truvia was only 5.8 days. Marenda realized it was time to move the experiment out of the house and into the lab, and he brought in O'Donnell for help. The next step was to determine what part of the sweetener was causing the toxic effect. Erythritol is the main ingredient in Truvia, and the scientists suspected it might be the toxin. The researchers gave flies food with Truvia, Pure Via, pure Erythritol or sucrose (table sugar). Flies that consumed food with either Truvia or erythritol were dead within a week. The other flies lived for two weeks before the researchers discontinued their observation.
The flies consumed more than twice as much Erythritol as sucrose when given the choice between the two, suggesting that the files preferred the former. Because of this, scientists think Erythritol could successfully be used to bait flies and act as an effective insecticide.
The researchers also wanted to know how much Erythritol it would take to kill off the flies. Flies that were given food with low levels of Erythritol (about 0.1 grams in 10 milliliters of water) showed no difference in life span than flies raised on food without any Erythritol. But flies that were given food with high levels of Erythritol (2.4 grams in 10 milliliters of water) were dead within two days.
The researchers don't know exactly how Erythritol killed the flies, but other studies have shown that it can inhibit an insect's ability to absorb nutrients and water and their ability to move around. More studies are needed to determine if Erythritol is toxic to any other insects. Erythritol: Truvia Sweetener Component May Also Be A Good Insecticide. Erythritol is a naturally occurring sugar alcohol that is present in small amounts in many fruits. It has been tested in humans at high doses and found safe to consume; it has been designated as a generally recognized safe food additive by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration since 2001 and is also approved as a food additive in many other countries.
The flies consumed Erythritol when sugar was available and even seemed to prefer it. No other sweeteners tested had these toxic effects. Take that, honey. Your fructose is so 10,000 B.C.
Flies raised on food laced with Erythritol lived for only 5.8 days on average, compared to 38.6 to 50.6 days for flies raised on control and experimental foods without the sweetener. Credit: Baudier et al., Drexel University
The new evidence that it is toxic to flies, which are drawn to its sweet flavor even when other foods are available, makes it a killer combination. It is particularly promising because it is safe for human consumption, unlike other pesticides that have caused tragic accidental poisonings such as one that killed 23 Indian school children last year.
"I feel like this is the simplest, most straight forward work I've ever done, but it's potentially the most important thing I've ever worked on," said Sean O'Donnell, PhD, a professor of biology at Drexel and senior author of the paper. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar, it is said, but most people want to avoid catching flies at all. A study has found that a popular non-nutritive sweetener, Erythritol, the main component of the sweetener Truvia®, is toxic to Drosophila melanogaster flies in a dose-dependent manner and so may be an effective and human-safe insecticide.
This line of research would not have started without the curiosity of one of the paper's co-authors, Simon D. Kaschock-Marenda, who is now in the ninth grade. Three years ago, Kaschock-Marenda questioned why both of his parents had stopped eating white sugar when trying to eat healthier.
"He asked if he could test the effects of different sugars and sugar substitutes on fly health and longevity for his science fair, and I said, 'Sure!" recalled Daniel Marenda, PhD, Simon's father and an assistant professor of biology at Drexel and co-senior author of the study. Father and son proceeded to buy supplies at their local supermarket – as many types of sugar and sugar substitutes as they could find. Marenda's lab supplied "baby" flies and growth medium for his son to raise flies in each of the different types of sweeteners at home, in preparation for the science fair at the Julia R. Masterman School in Philadelphia.
"After six days of testing these flies in our house, he came back to me and said, 'Dad, all the flies in the Truvia® vials are dead...'" Marenda said. "To which I responded, 'OK...we must have screwed up somehow. Let's repeat the experiment!'"
Under more rigorous testing conditions in the lab, they replicated their result and knew they were onto something – and could use a hand. "I only use insects to study the brain, so I needed someone who knew something about insects," said Marenda. So he brought the find down the hall to O'Donnell, whose background in entomology suited him to the task.
Working together, the team further pursued the question of how fruit flies responded to sweeteners – testing flies grown feeding on each of multiple non-nutritive sweeteners as well as sucrose (table sugar) and corn syrup.
Flies raised on food containing Truvia® lived for only 5.8 days on average, compared to 38.6 to 50.6 days for flies raised on control and experimental foods without Truvia®. Flies raised on food containing Truvia® also showed noticeable motor impairments prior to their deaths.
"Indeed what we found is that the main component of Truvia®, the sugar Erythritol, appears to have pretty potent insecticidal activity in our flies," Marenda said.
They found that the toxic effect did not come from stevia plant extract, which is present in both Truvia® and the non-nutritive sweetener PureVia®. PureVia® was included in their experiments and had no toxic effect on the flies.
"We are not going to see the planet sprayed with Erythritol and the chances for widespread crop application are slim," O'Donnell said. "But on a small scale, in places where insects will come to a bait, consume it and die, this could be huge."
The scientists haven't yet confirmed which insects Erythritol might kill, other than fruit flies, or how its toxic effects take hold.
The compound is even naturally produced in some insects, which use it as anti-freeze to protect their bodies against cold conditions – but that may not mean much, as their experiments bear out that the dose makes the poison. The researchers plan to conduct further experiments on other insects such as termites, cockroaches, bed bugs and ants. They will also test Erythritol's toxicity as it moves up the food chain by experimenting on praying mantis, which eat fruit flies.
Until further research helps refine the safest and most effective uses of Erythritol for insect pest control outside of the lab, can a supermarket dose of Truvia® help get rid of fruit fly infestations in the kitchen? The scientists aren't sure. That might be an experiment to try at home, or for the next science fair.
Based on this discovery, the researchers are pursuing a patent on erythritol as an insecticide and are continuing to study its effectiveness.
Citation: Baudier KM, Kaschock-Marenda SD, Patel N, Diangelus KL, O'Donnell S, et al. (2014) Erythritol, a Non-Nutritive Sugar Alcohol Sweetener and the Main Component of Truvia®, Is a Palatable Ingested Insecticide. PLoS ONE 9(6): e98949. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0098949. Source: Drexel UniversityFiled under: Researchers
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