Popular sugar substitute erythritol does more than sweeten coffee.
Previous research has shown that the sweetener kills fruit flies, but a group of Utica College students, led by biology professors Jessica Thomas and Sara Scanga, set out to discover whether the natural sweetener (marketed as Truvia) can have broader effects as an insecticide—without harming plants.
The students, Bilal Hasanspahic, Andrew Rahme, Jasmina Kozenjic and Edin Zvorcanin, set up an experiment as part of their BIO 325 botany course in the college’s greenhouse facilities. The students found that erythritol did not harm corn plants, but did have a detrimental effect on tomatoes and corn and tomato seeds, which suggests that farmers may want to proceed with caution when using the substance as a natural insecticide.
“The students are well trained, through our biology major and our broad liberal arts curriculum, to design and conduct such an experiment, as well as run the statistical analysis,” said Scanga.“In fact, their work and presentation won an award at the college’s annual Student Research Day.”
The research, published in PLOS ONE, a peer-reviewed scientific journal published by the Public Library of Science, was co-authored by the students and professors.
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