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Fruit fly study points to nutritional superiority of organic food

Fruit fly study points to nutritional superiority of organic food, While all the living presidents were celebrating the opening of the George Bush Presidential Library on the campus Southern Methodist University in Dallas Thursday, a non-political controversy was raging on another part of the campus – whether a study on fruit flies performed by a teen-aged girl shows scientific evidence that organically-raised foods are nutritionally superior to those conventionally raised.

Ria Chhabra, a sophomore at Clark High School in Plano, Tex., created a science fair project with the help of Johannes Bauer, Ph D, an assistant professor at Southern Methodist.

As reported in the New York Times, Ria's exploration of fruit flies and organic foods has not only raised some provocative questions about the health benefits of organic eating, it has also earned the 16-year-old top honors in a national science competition, publication in a respected scientific journal and university laboratory privileges normally reserved for graduate students.

The research, titled “Organically Grown Food Provides Health Benefits to Drosophila melanogaster,” tracked the effects of organic and conventional diets on the health of fruit flies. By nearly every measure, including fertility, stress resistance and longevity, flies that fed on organic bananas and potatoes fared better than those who dined on conventionally raised produce.

Dr. Bauer said that while the results can’t be directly extrapolated to human health, the research nonetheless paves the way for additional studies on the relative health benefits of organic versus conventionally grown foods.

Although he would not normally agree to work with a middle-school student, (she was only 14 when she began the project) Dr. Bauer said Ria performed on the level of a college senior or graduate student. “The seriousness with which she approached this was just stunning,”

The research has stirred a controversy over whether the relatively better health outcomes of the organically fed flies were due to superior nutrition or due to a comparison with flies weakened and perhaps sickened by pesticides in the conventional food. In other words it may not be that the organic-fed flies were stronger, but that the other flies were weaker.

Dr. Bauer admitted the study has raised some important questions that he hopes can be answered in future research.

It could be that the organic-fed flies thrived because of a higher level of nutrients in the organic produce. One intriguing idea raises the question of whether organically raised plants produce more natural compounds to ward off pests and fungi, and whether those compounds offer additional health benefits to flies, animals and humans who consume organic foods. “There are no hard data on that, but it’s something we’d like to follow up on,” he said.

But one thing is certain. The debate has been settled in Ria's household. Ria’s parents no longer argue about the cost of organic food. “All of our fresh produce is organic,” she said.

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