Thanks to the pioneering work of a ninth-grader on his science fair project, it's been confirmed that the second-best-seliing sugar substitute in the United States, erythritol, marketed under the brand name Truvia, is a potent insecticide, reports Discovery News, a website run by Discovery Communications.
Truvia is a natural sweetener that was jointly developed by Coca-Cola and Cargill.
Sean O'Donnell, a Drexel University professor of biology and biodiversity who is also a senior author on the study, is quoted saying in a press release: "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."
Another researcher who worked on the project was ninth-grader Simon D. Kaschock-Marenda. Three years ago, he questioned why both of his parents had stopped eating white sugar when trying to eat healthier.
Simon's father, Daniel Marenda, who is also a co-author of the study, said: "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!'"
As it happened, the flies that were given Truvia died a lot faster that the other flies in the experiments.
According to the article, "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."
Said Daniel Marenda: "Indeed, what we found is that the main component of Truvia, the sugar erythritol, appears to have pretty potent insecticidal activity in our flies."
The story adds: "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 these studies have concluded that it's safe for humans to consume. As a result, 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 scientists determined that stevia plant extract, which is also in Truvia, had no ill effect on the flies. Only erythritol really did a number on them."