A popular artificial sweetener that you might already have in your home could be both a safe and potent insecticide and a form of insect birth control.
Several years ago, a biology professor and his school-age son conducted an experiment in which they raised fruit flies on different artificial sweeteners. They discovered that flies who consumed the sweetener Truvia lived much shorter lives than their counterparts who were raised on other sweeteners.
When this experiment was modified in a lab, scientists confirmed that the sugar alcohol erythritol, which gives Truvia its sweetness, was toxic to the flies. In addition to this, the flies appeared to prefer erythritol to other sweeteners and even to real sugar.
A more recent experiment has shown that this substance is also effective at killing newly hatched fly larvae, whereas prior studies have focused on its effects on adult insects. The larvae who were fed erythritol never made it to adulthood, and researchers were able to determine that their deaths were caused by eating the sweetener. The larvae also died much faster than adult insects who consumed the erythritol.
The scientists also made a more promising finding in this latest research into erythritol’s insecticide effects. They found that adults who ate the sugar substitute produced fewer eggs than flies who did not eat it. This is important because controlling the birth rates of insects is more effective at reducing their numbers than just killing the adults of a species. So, even though adult flies can live several days after ingesting the sweetener, their impact on humans and the environment can still be lessened by reducing their reproductive capabilities. Since many other insecticides don’t slow or stop insect reproduction, adults can continue to lay eggs until they die, making these insecticides less effective.
Unfortunately, the flies appear to regain their reproductive abilities if they stop eating erythritol. However, since they are naturally attracted to the substance, it might be simple to get them to keep eating it, thus keeping their populations low.
Though the effects of erythritol have only been studied on fruit flies, scientists believe that that the sugar substitute will have the same effects on other insects. If this is true, this could make the sweetener a safe alternative to toxic chemical insecticides since Truvia and erythritol are both safe for human consumption.