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Popular artificial sweetener also works as pesticide and insect birth control

"Even though adults can live through eating erythritol for some time, their reproduction is impaired," researcher Sean O'Donnell said.

By Brooks Hays
Popular artificial sweetener also works as pesticide and insect birth control
A common fruit fly (Drosophila Melanogaster). Photo by Studiotouch/Shutterstock

May 23 (UPI) -- According to a new study, a popular artificial sweetener could double as a pesticide and birth control for insects.

In recent experiment, scientists used erythritol -- the sugar alcohol in Truvia -- to kill newly hatched fly larvae. Researchers also measured diminished egg production among flies feeding off of the sugar substitute.

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"Erythritol has potential to be deployed in a wider array of settings, targeting adults, egg production, active feeding larvae, or all of the above," Sean O'Donnell, an entomologist and professor at Drexel University, said in a news release. "Many insect control programs focus on knocking back insect reproduction, rather than -- or in addition to -- killing the adults. In part this is because reproductive suppression or disruption has a very strong effect of reducing pest population growth rate and limiting maximum pest population size."

Fly larvae fed Erythritol never reached adulthood. Most lived only a day and a half after exposure. Blue dye confirmed the larva died from ingestion of the artificial sweetener.

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Though prolonged exposure to erythritol can also kill adult flies, the insects can live for several days while consuming the sugar substitute. Tests showed the sweetener did depress the number of eggs laid by flies, but the insects' reproductive abilities recovered once they stopped ingesting erythritol.

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A reproductive slowdown is an important benefit, as many insecticides fail to slow population growth. Flies often continue laying eggs for the handful of days it takes for pesticides to finally kill their targets.

"Even though adults can live through eating erythritol for some time, their reproduction is impaired," O'Donnell said. "They will make little or no contribution to population growth before dying, and this effect is relatively rapid: It was apparent on day one."

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The experiments only involved fruit flies, but researchers believe their findings -- detailed in the Journal of Applied Entomology -- is applicable to other pests.

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