It started as a sixth grade science project. When his parents stopped using artificial sweetners, Simon D. Kaschock-Marenda wanted to know if they were harmful. He chose Drosophila as his test animals. There are few restrictions on working with insects (compared to vertebrates such as mice); Drosophila develop from egg to adult in two weeks and feed on an artifical diet. It is easy to incorporate test substances into their diet. Simon purchased and tested artificial sweetners off the shelf and discovered that Truvia® was toxic. In further work with scientists at Drexel Univeristy
, Erythritol, a natural sugar alcohol and the main ingredient in Truvia was identified as the toxin. The research was recently published in the journal PLoS One*. Not all science fair projects lead to publications. However, insects are excellent model organisms for a variety of experiments.
*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.