Fruit Flies Live Longer on Organic Produce
The proverbial “canary in the coal mine” is a metaphor for anything that alerts us to unseen dangers. But the expression is based on a real phenomenon. Birds are especially sensitive to toxic gases, and thus were used by coal miners in the past as primitive early-warning systems to detect invisible poisonous gases.
I thought of this recently, upon reading about a grammar school student from Texas who entered the science fair with a project that eventually led to her publication in a prestigious peer-reviewed journal. The girl in question, Ria Chhabra, wondered if organically grown produce provides any nutritional benefits compared to non-organically grown produce. To investigate the question, she enlisted the aid of fruit flies, a classic model used by researchers because the flies live, breed and die so quickly it’s possible to draw conclusions about variables that affect their health, reproduction and lifespan.
To put it simply, Ria raised generations of flies on either organic or conventionally grown produce, and documented the flies’ health. I’ve always recommended eating organic produce, so I’m pleased to report that fruit flies fared better on a diet of organic produce (bananas or potatoes) than on produce grown with pesticides. The organic-fed flies lived longer, resisted stress better, and reproduced more successfully. Ria’s research began after she discovered that organic produce has higher concentrations of vitamin C than conventionally grown produce. Other researchers have reported that in addition to having no pesticide residues, organic produce is often higher in potential health-promoting chemicals, such as resveratrol, or vitamin C, than non-organically grown produce. Like canaries in the coal mine, I think Ria’s fruit flies are trying to tell us that organic food is just better for you.
Chhabra R, Kolli S, Bauer JH (2013) Organically Grown Food Provides Health Benefits to Drosophila melanogaster. PLoS ONE 8(1): e52988. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0052988
Wang SY, Chen CT, Sciarappa W, Wang CY, Camp MJ. Fruit quality, antioxidant capacity, and flavonoid content of organically and conventionally grown blueberries. J Agric Food Chem. 2008 Jul 23;56(14):5788-94. doi: 10.1021/jf703775r. Epub 2008 Jul 1.