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Scientists suggest using an ingredient in a popular sweetener as an insecticide

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Scientists suggest using an ingredient in a popular sweetener as an insecticide. An ingredient present in Truvia is known as erythritol, which is a commonly used food additive approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, that significantly shortened the lifespan of fruit flies, according to a new research article, "Erythritol, a Non-Nutritive Sugar Alcohol Sweetener and the Main Component of Truvia®, Is a Palatable Ingested Insecticide," published online June 4, 2014 in the journal PLOS ONE. This is the first evidence that erythritol baits could be used as effective insecticides, at least against fruit flies, say the researchers. Authors of the study are Kaitlin M. Baudier, Simon D. Kaschock-Marenda, Nirali Patel, Katherine L. Diangelus, Sean O'Donnell, and Daniel R. Marenda. If you look at the Truvia informational website, you can read information on erythritol. The product's page says, "Erythritol is different from other sugar alcohols in two ways."

The research and reports section of that Truvia.com site notes that erythritol is not broken down by the body, so it cannot provide calories or affect blood sugar. Other sugar alcohols can be broken down by the body to varying degrees. This means that the body can use them for calories. Erythritol is different, it provides zero calories and has zero net carbs.You also can click on the link of the Truvia.com "Research Program." But what do independent researchers have to report about the effects of erythritol, at least on fruit flies?

Erythritol is a four-carbon polyol that is marketed as a non-nutritive sweetener. In a recent study, six other sweeteners had no impact on the lifespan of fruit flies. You may wish to see the abstract of another study done in 2010 on erythritol, "Biotechnological production of erythritol and its applications," published in Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology. Authors are Moon HJ, Jeya M, Kim IW, and Lee JK. When you choose a sweetener, which would you prefer, one with very little processing that comes directly from fresh, wholesome fruit shown to be safe to eat, or a sweetener that contains an ingredient that scientists suggest be used or at least tried and researched as an insecticide?

Fruit flies share nearly 60% of human genes, according to the BBC NEWS | Science/Nature article, "Fruit fly gene success." And in the NASA Science article, "The Fruit Fly in You," That article notes that genetically speaking, people and fruit flies are surprisingly alike, according to biologist Sharmila Bhattacharya of NASA's Ames Research Center. "About 61% of known human disease genes have a recognizable match in the genetic code of fruit flies, and 50% of fly protein sequences have mammalian analogues."

Fruit flies live an average of 45 to 60 days, but those raised in tubes containing Truvia —one of the best-selling sugar substitutes in the United States—lived for an average of only 5.8 days.

Six other sweeteners—four artificial, two natural—had no impact on lifespan, the researchers report in PLOS ONE. The scientists also found that Truvia-fed flies had difficulty in climbing up a small vial, indicating impaired motor function, says the June 5, 2014 Science Now article by Email Shreya, "Artificial Sweetener Is Poison for Fruit Flies." The Science Now article also had a subtitle, "Best-selling sugar substitute could make a good insecticide."

The problem, the research team in the PLOS ONE study discovered, lies in an ingredient present in Truvia but not in the other six sweeteners. Erythritol, is a commonly used food additive approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This is the first evidence that erythritol baits could be used as effective insecticides, at least against fruit flies, say the researchers, according to the Science Now article, "Artificial Sweetener Is Poison for Fruit Flies."

Insecticides have a variety of commercial applications including urban pest control, agricultural use to increase crop yields, and prevention of proliferation of insect-borne diseases

Many pesticides in current use are synthetic molecules such as organochlorine and organophosphate compounds. Some synthetic insecticides suffer drawbacks including high production costs, concern over environmental sustainability, harmful effects on human health, targeting non-intended insect species, and the evolution of resistance among insect populations, notes the abstract of the study published June 4, 2014 in the journal PLOS ONE, "Erythritol, a Non-Nutritive Sugar Alcohol Sweetener and the Main Component of Truvia®, Is a Palatable Ingested Insecticide."

Industry knows that there's a worldwide need and demand for environmentally safe and effective insecticides. What the researchers have found in this research is that Erythritol, a non-nutritive sugar alcohol, was toxic to the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster.

Ingested erythritol decreased fruit fly longevity in a dose-dependent manner, and erythritol was ingested by flies that had free access to control (sucrose) foods in choice and CAFE studies. Erythritol was US FDA approved in 2001 and is used as a food additive in the United States. Our results demonstrate, for the first time, that erythritol may be used as a novel, environmentally sustainable and human safe approach for insect pest control, the study explains.

And what the research team's findings demonstrate, for the first time, is that erythritol, and the erythritol containing sweetener Truvia, are toxic to Drosophila melanogaster. Those studies did not address the physiological or molecular mechanisms of erythritol toxicity. In some insects, ingested erthritol can inhibit uptake of nutritive sugars through the gut wall. Ingestion of erythritol may alter nutrient and/or water absorption and/or efflux. To see the sources of this type of information, if you check out the study or its abstract, the footnote numbers link to names of studies that can be referred to as sources for such information.

What the researchers point out is that erythritol in tissues is not always toxic to arthropods

For example, some insect species that are seasonally exposed to freezing conditions produce erythritol and other polyhydric alcohols as tissue cryoprotectants. The study also has footnotes of links numbered that refer to other studies showing this information. for example, larvae of one antarctic midge can safely ingest erythritol from food plants and sequester it for adult cryoprotection. You can check out the link to the study that discusses this information. Toxic effects of ingested erythritol may be dose-dependent, as the research team's data suggest.

Noteworthy in this study is that the researchers found that erythritol is not the only sweetener known to be toxic to insects. For example, mannose has been shown to be toxic in honey bees. and there are links to several studies discussing this phenomenon if you check out the study in PLOS ONE, "Erythritol, a Non-Nutritive Sugar Alcohol Sweetener and the Main Component of Truvia®, Is a Palatable Ingested Insecticide."

The research team mentions, however, mannose was not toxic to Drosophila melanogaster or to Ceratitis capitata. See the footnote link on the study to another study that discusses that point. Further study will be required to determine if erythritol is toxic to other insect species, say the researchers in their study's conclusions.

A large body of literature has shown that erythritol consumption by humans is very well tolerated

There are links to three other studies that discuss this literature. For example, the researchers note that large amounts of both erythritol and Truvia are being consumed by humans every day throughout the world. The research team concludes that taken together, the research team's data set the stage for investigating this compound as a novel, effective, and human safe approach for insect pest control. But wouldn't you rather sweeten your food with fruit?

The researchers suggest targeted bait presentations to fruit crop and urban insect pests are particularly promising. for more information, check out the study, "Erythritol, a Non-Nutritive Sugar Alcohol Sweetener and the Main Component of Truvia®, Is a Palatable Ingested Insecticide." You also may wish to see another study or its abstract, "Biotechnological production of erythritol and its applications," published in Applied Microbiology Biotechnology. Authors are Moon HJ, Jeya M, Kim IW, and Lee JK.

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