After hearing her parents argue about the value of organic foods, middle-school student Ria Chhabra decided to create a science fair project to settle the issue.
Now her study on the effects of organic foods on fruit flies has earned her publication in scientific journal and top honors in a national science competition, according to The New York Times.
Recent research has raised questions about whether or not organic food is healthier than conventional options. Last year, two studies showed that organic produce didn’t have more nutrients than conventional produce, although they did contain less pesticides. Even still, doctors said focusing on eating enough veggies was more important than worrying about whether those greens were organic.
Ria’s study adds a wrinkle of complexity to the organic vs. conventional food debate. Along with the help of Dr. Johannes Bauer of the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Ria used fruit flies to investigate the health effects of organic and conventional foods. They discovered that flies fed organic potatoes and bananas had better stress resistance, longevity, and fertility compared to flies consuming conventional produce.
It’s still unclear why organic foods produced these differences however. They suggested that it’s possible that the flies thrived because they weren’t exposed to the pesticide and fungicide found in conventional foods. Not having the barrier of pesticides may also mean that organic plants need to develop more natural compounds to resist pests and fungi, and these compounds could create additional nutrients beneficial for animal and human health.
These hypotheses still need to be teased out in scientific studies however, and researchers still need to test whether the health benefits experienced by flies can be extrapolated to humans.
While the debate continues in scientific journals, Ria said the issue is resolved in her household. Now her parents always buy organic produce.
Chhabra R, et al. Organically grown food provides health benefits to Drosophila melanogaster. PLoS ONE 2013; 8(1): e52988. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0052988
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