Fruit Flies Help Further Study of Health Benefits of Organic Produce

A middle-school student and her science project with fruit flies leads to some impressive findings for those studying the health benefits of organic produce vs. conventionally-grown produce.

Fruit Flies

In grapefruit as well as many other fruits, one female Mexican fruit fly can deposit large numbers of eggs: up to 40 eggs at a time, 100 or more a day, and about 2,000 over her life span.

Photo By Jack Dykinga

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While humans continue to debate the value and merit of organic produce, a different species has voiced its preference for organic: fruit flies. And the source of that information might surprise you.

As Tara Parker-Pope reported in the New York Times (April 17, 2013), middle-school student Ria Chhabra thought it’d be an interesting science project to measure the vitamin C content of organic produce vs. conventionally-grown produce. After finding higher levels in the organic produce, she went a step further and began studying the overall health benefits of organic vs. conventional produce using fruit flies for her experiments.

Her study got the attention of nearby Southern Methodist University assistant professor Dr. Johannes Bauer, who maintains a fly lab at SMU, and found a direct correlation between Ria’s research and his own. Chhabra’s study was eventually chosen as one of 30 projects in the 2011 Broadcom Masters national science competition. With the help of Dr. Bauer, Chhabra compiled her findings in a research paper titled “Organically Grown Food Provides Health Benefits to Drosophila melanogaster,” which was recently published in the peer-reviewed, open-source scientific journal PLOS ONE. “The seriousness with which she approached this was just stunning,” said Dr. Bauer.

For something that started out as a middle-school science project, Chhabra’s study has opened up new doors of research into the health benefits of organic produce, and raised new questions about the negative health effects of pesticides and fungicides used on conventionally-grown produce.

Now a high school sophomore in Plano, Texas, Chhabra juggles standard 16-year-old activities with her ongoing research. She’s now studying type 2 diabetes through her fruit fly model for her 10th grade science project, and plans on developing that research into a study that explores the health benefits of alternative diabetes remedies such as cinnamon and curcumin.