A new study has found that a major component of Truvia, erythritol, is an insect killer. Truvia is a sugar substitute that has become quite popular. Published in PLoS ONE, this study proposes that Truvia has the potential to be a human-friendly and effective insecticide. As far as science knows, there is no other sugar substitute available which has exhibited such toxic effects on bugs. Since researchers are often seeking out powerful insect killers that are not harmful to people, the authors of the study were surprised the job was done so thoroughly by the sweetener.
A professor of biodiversity and biology at Philadelphia’s Drexel University, Sean O’Donnell, is the senior author of the study. In a press release, O’Donnell said he feels this work is the most straightforward he has ever done. Potentially, it is the most important work as well.
Simon D. Kaschock-Marenda also contributed to the study. He is a ninth-grader who was curious as to why his parents removed white sugar from their daily diets for health purposes. His father, Daniel Marenda, is a co-author of the study. When his son asked him if he could run some experiments using various sugars and substitutes, he was supportive. The research was to focus on the health and longevity of flies and be presented at the boy’s school science fair.
The father-and-son team purchased every kind of sugar and sugar substitutes available at their neighborhood grocery store. From the senior Marenda’s lab, they acquired baby flies. Then, they proceeded to rear them on the variety of sweeteners, recording the results. Six days into the experiment, the younger Marenda announced that all of the flies in the Truvia vial were deceased. The father presumed that they must have done something wrong, so they repeated that portion of the experiment.
Upon repeating the process, they concluded that the flies that were fed food laced with Truvia only lived for an average of 5.8 days. The flies in the experiment that did not receive Truvia lived for 38.6 to 50.6 days. The flies raised on Truvia were also found to be experiencing impairments to their motor abilities before they died. Marenda said that he and his son agreed that erythritol seemed to be a potent insecticide.
A sugar alcohol that occurs naturally and found in many fruits in small amounts, erythritol has been tested on humans. Even in large quatities, it has been concluded that it is safe for human consumption. Since 2001, erythritol has been deemed safe not only by the U. S. Food and Drug Administration, but in other nations as well.
Stevia is also a component in the product Truvia, but the researchers determined that it was definitely the erythritol that did all the deadly damage to the flies. O’Donnell does not expect that erythritol will be adopted for widespread use as an insecticide. He does, however, see great potential for the sugar alcohol in bait traps. Researchers’ next steps are to discover what other insects, which have proven to be pests to humans, are affected by erythritol, such as, cockroaches, termites, ants and bedbugs.
By Stacy Lamy