60-Second Science

Kid Scientist Finds Sweet Pest Control

Eleven-year-old Simon Kaschock-Marenda's science fair project led to a publication about the insecticidal effects of the sweetener Truvia. Karen Hopkin reports


You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. But if you want to kill them, you might try Truvia. Because a new study shows that the active ingredient in this popular sweetener can act as an insecticide.
The study began as a sixth-grade science-fair project. Eleven-year-old Simon Kaschock-Marenda noticed that his parents had stopped using sugar. So he decided to see how different sweeteners affect the health of fruit flies. He and his dad, a card-carrying biologist, offered the flies food spiked with a variety of no-cal sweeteners. Six days into the experiment all the Truvia-fed flies were dead, while those stuck with Sweet-n-low, Splenda or Equal lived five to seven weeks.

Why Truvia makes flies drop like flies is still a mystery. Back in the lab, the researchers confirmed that the bugs weren’t starving: they all continued to eat. Most actually seemed to prefer Truvia to real sugar when offered a choice, findings published in the journal PLoS One. [Kaitlin M. Baudier et al, Erythritol, a Non-Nutritive Sugar Alcohol Sweetener and the Main Component of Truvia®, Is a Palatable Ingested Insecticide]

Next, the researchers will see if the sweetener kills other bugs, like cockroaches or ants. Until then, try tossing a little Truvia in your coffee, and on the counter.
—Karen Hopkin
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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