A Drexel biologists son accidentally discovers that artificial sweeteners kills flies. Credit: Drexel University. A Drexel biologist's son accidentally discovered that an artificial sweetener kills flies. Credit: Drexel University

For his sixth-grade science project at Masterman School, then 11-year-old Simon Kaschock-Marenda wondered if his parents' dietary decision could also affect flies.

And then his project turned into an academic study.


The goal three years ago was to find out how different sweeteners affected the health of fruit flies after his parents, who include Drexel University biologist Daniel Marenda, started to use artificial sweeteners in lieu of sugar to improve their health. He chose fruit flies because his father studied them at work.

For the project, Daniel fed the flies various sweeteners, and all of them died within days. He fed them again with the same results.

Daniel Marenda asked his colleague Sean O'Donnell what he thought of the discovery.

"I immediately got super excited because I saw the potential for possibly developing this as an insecticide," O'Donnell said.

The result is a study, conducted by the Drexel professors, biologists and graduate students, published in the journal PLOS One. It found that Truvia was the deadliest sweetener. Flies that ate the sweetener, whose main compound is erythritol, died in a few days, while other sweeteners killed the flies within weeks.

Unfortunately, Daniel, now 14, didn't win a top prize.

"But we bought him a new laptop," his father said.

Experiment notes

  • Why the compound killed the flies remains a mystery, O'Donnell said.

  • Erythritol has been FDA-approved for humans since 2001.

  • Marenda and O'Donnell are hoping to develop artificial sweetener into a baited pesticide.


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