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Prevention: Is Organic Food Really Better For You?

What you need to know about the safety and health of your food

Prevention Bauer Chhabra organic fruit fly

Health and science reporter Richard Laliberte with Prevention Magazine has covered research carried out in the fruit fly lab of SMU biologist Johannes H. Bauer. The research by Plano, Texas high school student Ria Chhabra is featured in the article, “Is Organic Food Really Better For You?,” published Aug. 21.

Bauer, an assistant professor in SMU’s Department of Biological Sciences, mentored Chhabra in her research to examine whether there would be health differences to fruit flies fed an organic diet or a nonorganic diet. Chhabra’s study found that flies fed an organic diet fared better on important health tests, particularly fertility and longevity.

Read the article.

EXCERPT:

By Richard Laliberte
Prevention Magazine

The Chhabra household of Plano, TX, couldn’t resolve a family dispute. “My husband and I are vegetarian,” says Babita Jain Chhabra. “Our family already eats more fruits and vegetables than most people, and they’re expensive.” Her husband wanted to buy cheap produce at Walmart. Babita said no—the family should buy organic products because their two children needed the healthiest food possible.

“She just assumed organic was healthier,” says Babita’s 16-year-old daughter, Ria, channeling her father’s skepticism. “That’s what sparked my interest.”

Ria, who was only 13 when the organic debate broke out at her dinner table, decided to settle it. She launched a middle school science fair project that bloomed into more than 2 years of research and eventually involved two Southern Methodist University researchers, Santharam Kolli and Johannes H. Bauer. This year, their study, which found that fruit flies that ate organic foods did better in almost every health measure the researchers tracked (living longer, laying more eggs, resisting stress better, and acting livelier) than those that ate conventionally grown food, was published in PLOS One, an online peer-reviewed scientific journal.

For the Chhabras, it was case closed. They are now buying organic. “Because of Ria’s experiment, we know that in the long run, organic food will be better for us than anything else,” Babita says.

Most Americans are dabbling in organics—81% of families buy organic at least some of the time, according to a 2013 survey by the Organic Trade Association. And there are plenty of experts who think everyone should be as decisive as the Chhabras. One of them is Charles Benbrook, PhD, a research professor at Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Last year, when a widely publicized Stanford University study analyzing more than 200 research papers comparing the benefits of eating organic versus conventionally grown food concluded that organic food isn’t any healthier, Dr. Benbrook corrected their math. Utilizing government data on pesticide toxicity, he countered with his own findings that there’s a full 94% reduction in health risks if you eat organic rather than conventional foods. The Stanford researchers had looked at nine old studies about pesticide residue on produce and noted that organics have 30% fewer toxins than conventional crops—but failed to calculate the health benefits based upon the most recent USDA data on actual residues in food.

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SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see www.smu.edu.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.

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The Sydney Morning Herald: Flying in the face of the organic debate

Unlikely as it may sound, a 16-year-old’s school science project has added weight to the organic versus conventional debate

Sydney Herald, Bauer, Chhabra, SMU, fruit flies, organic

Life & Style reporter Sarah Berry with The Sydney Morning Herald has covered research carried out in the fruit fly lab of SMU biologist Johannes H. Bauer by Plano, Texas, high school student Ria Chhabra. The article, “Flying in the face of the organic debate,” published April 25.

Bauer, an assistant professor in SMU’s Department of Biological Sciences, mentored Chhabra in her research to examine whether there would be health differences to fruit flies fed an organic diet or a nonorganic diet. Chhabra’s study found that flies fed an organic diet fared better on important health tests, particularly fertility and longevity.

Read the article.

EXCERPT:

By Sarah Berry
The Sydney Morning Herald

A 16-year-old’s school science project has added weight to the argument that eating organically has greater health benefits than eating conventionally-grown foods.
Ria Chhabra overheard her parents debating the topic and decided to see if she could find out the answer for herself, the New York Times reports.

To test whether organically grown food provides greater health benefits than its conventionally grown counterpart, Chhabra turned to fruit flies; they have around 75 per cent of the genes that cause disease in humans and have a short life span so a variety of biological factors can be studied in a reasonably short period of time.

Her experiment was conducted over her summer break with the help of an assistant professor and a researcher at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. It won her top honours in a national science competition and has now been published in the respected Plos One journal.

Half of the flies in the experiment were fed an organic diet and the other half a conventional one. She then tested levels of fertility, stress resistance, physical activity and longevity.

They found that eating organically improved levels on virtually all fronts.
“These data suggest that organic foods are more nutritionally balanced than conventional foods, or contain higher levels of nutrients, leading to improved fertility and longevity,” they said.

Similarly, flies on the organic diet were more active and had greater stress resistance.
The main exception to these findings was that the diet had to be balanced. Flies that were fed only one type of organic food had shorter lifespans and were less fertile than those fed a balanced conventional diet.

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SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see www.smu.edu.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.

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New York Times: Is Organic Better? Ask a Fruit Fly

15well_fly-articleInline

New York Times reporter Tara Parker-Pope has covered research carried out in the fruit fly lab of SMU biologist Johannes H. Bauer.

The article on the New York Times Wellness blog covers the research of Bauer and Plano, Texas, high school student Ria Chhabra. “Is Organic Better? Ask a Fruit Fly” appeared April 17.

Bauer, an assistant professor in SMU’s Department of Biological Sciences, mentored Chhabra in her research to examine whether there would be health differences to fruit flies fed an organic diet or a nonorganic diet. Chhabra’s study found that flies fed an organic diet fared better on important health tests, particularly fertility and longevity.

Read the New York Times article.

EXCERPT:

Tara Parker-Pope
New York Times

When Ria Chhabra, a middle school student near Dallas, heard her parents arguing about the value of organic foods, she was inspired to create a science fair project to try to resolve the debate.

Three years later, 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.

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. Fruit fly models are often used in research because their short life span allows scientists to evaluate a number of basic biological effects over a relatively brief period of time, and the results provide clues for better understanding disease and biological processes in humans.

Read the New York Times article.

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SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see www.smu.edu.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.

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Le Journal de la Science: Et si manger bio était bel et bien meilleur pour la santé?

Le Journal de la Science: And if eating organic was indeed better for your health?

Bauer, Chhabra, SMU, biology, fruit flies, organic

Science journalist Alain Tranet writing in the Paris-based science publication Le Journal de la Science has covered research carried out in the fruit fly lab of SMU biologist Johannes H. Bauer by Plano, Texas, high school student Ria Chhabra. The article, “Et si manger bio était bel et bien meilleur pour la santé?,” published April 3.

Bauer, an assistant professor in SMU’s Department of Biological Sciences, mentored Chhabra in her research to examine whether there would be health differences to fruit flies fed an organic diet or a nonorganic diet. Chhabra’s study found that flies fed an organic diet fared better on important health tests, particularly fertility and longevity.

Read the article in French. An English translation follows the French excerpt below.

EXCERPT:

By Alain Tranet
Le Journal de la Science

Manger bio serait-il en définitive meilleur pour la santé ? C’est en tout cas ce que suggère une étude américaine menée… sur la mouche du vinaigre. Un résultat qui contredit plusieurs précédents travaux.

Manger bio a-t-il un effet bénéfique sur la santé humaine ? Alors que ce débat fait rage depuis de nombreuses années maintenant, une nouvelle étude menée sur la drosophile met en lumière l’existence d’une influence positive de l’alimentation biologique sur la santé de cette mouche (laquelle est, rappellons-le, un modèle animal abondamment utilisé par les scientifiques pour toutes sortes d’expérimentation, et notamment celles portant sur les mécanismes cellulaires du vieillissement). Ce résultat a été publié par des biologistes américains de la Southern Methodist University (Dallas, États-Unis) dans la revue en accès ouvert PLoS One, sous le titre “Organically Grown Food Provides Health Benefits to Drosophila melanogaster”.

Quelle est la nature exacte du résultat obtenu par le biologiste Johannes H. Bauer et ses collègues ? Ils ont constaté que des mouches drosophiles nourries durant toute leur (courte) existence avec des aliments issus de l’agriculture biologique présentaient une longévité accrue et une plus grande fertilité par rapport à des drosophiles nourries avec des produits issus de l’agriculture conventionnelle.

Plus précisément, les scientifiques ont testé les effets sur la santé de quatre produits issus de l’agriculture biologique : des pommes de terre, du raisin des bananes et du soja. Pour évaluer les effets séparés de ces quatre aliments, quatre groupes de 200 drosophiles ont été constitués, recevant chacun l’un ou l’autre de ces produits durant l’intégralité de leur vie, ainsi que quatre groupes contrôle constitués de 200 drosophiles recevant également durant toute leur existence l’équivalent non biologique de l’un ou l’autre de ces quatre aliments.

TRANSLATION:
Is eating organic ultimately better for our health? That’s what a new U.S. study suggests … for the fruit fly. The result contradicts several previous studies.

Does eating organic have a beneficial effect on human health? While this debate has been raging for many years now, a new study on Drosophila highlights the existence of a positive effect of organic food on the health of the fly (which is, remember, an animal model widely used by scientists for all kinds of experiments, including those on the cellular mechanisms of aging). This result was published by American biologists from Southern Methodist University (Dallas, USA) in the open access journal PLoS One, titled “Organically Grown Food Provides Health Benefits to Drosophila melanogaster.”

What is the exact nature of the result obtained by the biologist Johannes H. Bauer and his colleagues? They found that fruit flies fed throughout their (short) life with organically grown food had increased longevity and higher fertility compared to fruit flies fed with products from conventional farming.

Specifically, the scientists tested the effects on health of four kinds of produce from organic farming: potatoes, grapes, bananas and soybeans. To assess the separate effects of these four foods, 200 fruit flies were sorted into four groups, each receiving either of these products during their entire life, and four control groups consisting of 200 Drosophila also receiving an equivalent non-organic diet.

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SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see www.smu.edu.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.

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Fast Company: Organic Food Will Make You Live Longer And Be More Fertile (If You’re A Fly)

bauer, fruit flies, organic diet, fertility, longevity

Journalist Ariel Schwartz on Fast Company’s Co.Exist web site has covered research carried out in the fruit fly lab of SMU biologist Johannes H. Bauer.

The article, which covers the research of Bauer and Plano, Texas, high school student Ria Chhabra, appeared April 1, “Organic Food Will Make You Live Longer And Be More Fertile (If You’re A Fly).”

Bauer, an assistant professor in SMU’s Department of Biological Sciences, mentored Chhabra in her research to examine whether there would be health differences to fruit flies fed an organic diet or a nonorganic diet. Chhabra’s study found that flies fed an organic diet fared better on important health tests, particularly fertility and longevity.

Read the Fast Company article.

EXCERPT:

Ariel Schwartz
Fast Company

A new study found that the bugs that ate an organic diet were more healthy and lived longer. So, ask yourself, how much like a fly are you?

Organic food can help you live longer–if you happen to be a fruit fly. A study from researchers at Southern Methodist University found that fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) fed on a diet of organic produce experienced increased fertility and longevity. This could have implications for humans, but don’t start using the study as a pro-organic talking point just yet.

The researchers involved in the study (including high school student Ria Chhabra, who was inspired to initiate the study after speaking with her parents about the benefits of organic food) nourished growing fruit flies with produce–bananas, potatoes, raisins, and soy beans bought from a grocery store. Some of the flies received conventional produce, and others ate organic versions.

Ultimately, the researchers found that none of the flies lived that long–as they note in the study, “Drosophila cultured on produce extract diets were generally shorter lived than flies raised on regular lab food, presumably due to limited nutritional balance in diets prepared from a single produce source.” Within the confines of the study, however, the flies who ate on the organic foods fared best (though the flies that gorged themselves on just organic raisins fared worse so, you know, be careful). The flies fed with organic produce also had a longer egg production peak than their counterparts.

At this point, you might be thinking that the study is a major rebuke to another study from 2012 that found organic food to be no more healthy than conventionally grown food. But that study actually looked at humans, not fruit flies. Another problem: The more recent study provides no indications as to why the fruit flies lived longer and more fertile lives. So take any pro-organic conclusions with a grain of natural sea salt.

Read the Fast Company article.

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SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see www.smu.edu.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.

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MNN: Organic food is good for flies, study finds

Bauer, fruit fly, organic diet, Chhabra, SMU

The Mother Nature Network covered research carried out in the fruit fly lab of SMU biologist Johannes H. Bauer by Plano, Texas, high school student Ria Chhabra in its March 27, 2013, article “Organic food is good for flies, study finds.”

Bauer, an assistant professor in SMU’s Department of Biological Sciences, mentored Chhabra in her research to examine whether there would be health differences to fruit flies fed an organic diet or a nonorganic diet. Chhabra’s study found that flies fed an organic diet fared better on important health tests, particularly fertility and longevity.

Read the Mother Nature Network article.

EXCERPT:

By Russell McLendon
Mother Nature Network

Fruit flies live longer and lay more eggs when they eat organic food, according to a study published by university researchers and an ambitious Texas teenager.

After listening to her parents debate the benefits of buying organic food, Ria Chhabra decided to take matters into her own hands. The Texas high-school student — along with biology researchers from Southern Methodist University — began studying how an organic diet affects the health of fruit flies, hoping to shed light on potential benefits for people.

Fruit flies and humans have lots of obvious physiological differences, but the insects are still common test subjects for studying human health, since about 77 percent of known human disease genes have a relevant match in the fruit-fly genome. And based on Chhabra’s research, both species may have a lot to gain by eating more organic food.

“To our surprise, in the majority of our tests of flies on organic foods, the flies fed organic diets did much better on our health tests than the flies fed conventional food,” says SMU biologist Johannes Bauer, who served as Chhabra’s mentor, in a press release. “Longevity and fertility are the two most important aspects of fly life. On both of these tests, flies fed organic diets performed much better than flies fed conventional diets. They lived longer, had higher fertility, and had a much higher lifetime reproductive output.”

That’s a promising result, but as Chhabra points out, it’s still unclear why exactly the organic-fed flies turned out healthier.

“We don’t know why the flies on the organic diet did better,” says Chhabra, a student at Clark High School in Plano, Texas. “That will require further research. But this is a start toward understanding potential health benefits.”

Read the Mother Nature Network article.

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SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see www.smu.edu.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.

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Outside: Eating Organic Helps Flies Live Longer

Johannes Bauer, SMU, fruit flies, organic diet

Outside magazine writer Adam Roy has covered research carried out in the fruit fly lab of SMU biologist Johannes H. Bauer by Plano, Texas, high school student Ria Chhabra in its March 27, 2013, article “Eating organic helps flies live longer.”

Bauer, an assistant professor in SMU’s Department of Biological Sciences, mentored Chhabra in her research to examine whether there would be health differences to fruit flies fed an organic diet or a nonorganic diet. Chhabra’s study found that flies fed an organic diet fared better on important health tests, particularly fertility and longevity.

Read the Outside article.

EXCERPT:

By Adam Roy
Outside Online

Eating organic food may help you live longer—if you’re a fly, that is. A group of researchers from Southern Methodist University offered fruit flies extracts of different varieties of organic and conventional produce purchased at the same Whole Foods in Texas. They found that flies who fed on organic potatoes, raisins and soy enjoyed a significantly longer lifespan and were more fertile.

The new report follows a study published by Stanford researchers last year which found that organic produce wasn’t significantly more nutritious than conventionally-raised fruits and vegetables, provoking a debate on the merits of chemical-free food. While the new study’s authors stop short of saying that the results are as applicable to humans as to flies, they do suggest that other animals could reap some of the same health benefits.

Read the Outside article.

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SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see www.smu.edu.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.

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Dallas Observer: SMU Researchers Prove that Eating Organic Makes You Live Longer — If You’re a Fly

Johannes Bauer, organic diet, fruit flies, SMU

Dallas Observer journalist Eric Nicholson has covered research carried out in the fruit fly lab of SMU biologist Johannes H. Bauer by Plano, Texas, high school student Ria Chhabra in its March 27, 2013, article “SMU Researchers Prove that Eating Organic Makes You Live Longer — If You’re a Fly.”

Bauer, an assistant professor in SMU’s Department of Biological Sciences, mentored Chhabra in her research to examine whether there would be health differences to fruit flies fed an organic diet or a nonorganic diet. Chhabra’s study found that flies fed an organic diet fared better on important health tests, particularly fertility and longevity.

Read the Observer article.

EXCERPT:

Eric Nicholson
Dallas Observer

There was a minor furor in the media last year when a study conducted by a researcher at Standford’s medical school concluded that organic fruits and vegetables are no healthier than their conventionally raised counterparts. This wasn’t quite as newsworthy as the headlines made it sound, since the study was looking mainly at vitamin content of produce, not at the chemicals that were or were not sprayed on it. Precious few people buy organic carrots expecting through-the-roof levels of beta carotene.

Then again, maybe they should. A new study by researchers at SMU, which is clearly more definitive than the Stanford one because it’s newer, suggests that eating organic food may cause you to live longer. If you’re a fruit fly.

They chose fruit flies essentially because they’re easier to keep on an all-organic diet, since they can’t sneak off and binge on Twinkies and they don’t object to consuming a single type of liquified produce from Whole Foods (either potatoes, raisins, bananas, or soybeans, depending on the fly) for their entire lives. They also live for about a month, making it easier to parse out the effect of diet on lifespan.

The Atlantic reported this morning on the study’s results:

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SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see www.smu.edu.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.

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The Atlantic: Eating Organic Food Associated With Longer Lives (in Flies)

Johannes Bauer, SMU, organic diet, fruit flies

The Atlantic has covered research carried out in the fruit fly lab of SMU biologist Johannes H. Bauer by Plano, Texas, high school student Ria Chhabra in its March 27, 2013, article “Eating Organic Food Associated With Longer Lives (in Flies).”

Bauer, an assistant professor in SMU’s Department of Biological Sciences, mentored Chhabra in her research to examine whether there would be health differences to fruit flies fed an organic diet or a nonorganic diet. Chhabra’s study found that flies fed an organic diet fared better on important health tests, particularly fertility and longevity.

Read The Atlantic article.

EXCERPT:

Lindsay Abrams
The Atlantic

Fruit flies fed organic produce from Whole Foods lived longer and laid more eggs than those fed the store’s conventionally grown offerings.

PROBLEM: Last September when Stanford researchers came out with findings that organic food doesn’t confer any additional nutritional value, the world countered: Of course not. While organic fruits and vegetables can claim health benefits in that they lack any number of additives that come included with traditionally farmed foods, calling produce organic doesn’t make it any healthier than it already, by virtue of being a fruit or vegetable, is supposed to be.

Still, that doesn’t mean researchers can’t turn it around and ask if produce containing chemicals, preservatives, and hormones are, comparatively, a little bit less healthy. While we know organic food serves the interests of the environment, public health, and human rights, there’s a lot we still don’t know about its benefits for the individual supermarket shopper deciding between the banana with the “organic” sticker and the one that’s heaped in with the other, conventional foods.

METHODS: At Southern Methodist University, researchers raised fruit flies on extracts of typical grocery store produce. Different groups of flies received either organic or conventional versions of potatoes, soybeans, raisins, or bananas, all purchased from the same Texas Whole Foods.

RESULTS: Despite the relatively poor health exhibited by all — as happens when one lives its entire life consuming only one type of food — the flies who ate organic generally performed better on a number of health measures.

Specifically, diets of organic potatoes, raisins, and soy were all associated with significantly longer lifespans, with no difference seen between organic and conventional bananas. Flies raised on organic versions of all four foods were more fertile.

Read The Atlantic article.

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SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see www.smu.edu.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.

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CBS News: Organic foods linked to better fertility, longevity in fruit flies

CBS News has covered research carried out in the fruit fly lab of SMU biologist Johannes H. Bauer by Plano, Texas, high school student Ria Chhabra in its March 27, 2013, article “Organic foods linked to better fertility, longevity in fruit flies.”

Bauer, an assistant professor in SMU’s Department of Biological Sciences, mentored Chhabra in her research to examine whether there would be health differences to fruit flies fed an organic diet or a nonorganic diet. Chhabra’s study found that flies fed an organic diet fared better on important health tests, particularly fertility and longevity.

Read the CBS News article.

EXCERPT:

Ryan Jaslow
CBS News

New research shows eating lots of organic food can lead to a healthier life — if you happen to be a fruit fly.

Scientists fed fruit flies extracts from either organic foods or non-organic, conventionally-grown foods, and found the organic group was healthier and lived longer than their counterparts.

“We don’t know why the flies on the organic diet did better. That will require further research. But this is a start toward understanding potential health benefits,” study leader Ria Chhabra, a student at Clark High School in Plano, Texas, said in a written statement.

That’s right, the study was led by a Texas high school student who got the idea from hearing her parents discuss whether or not it was worth it to buy organic foods for health reasons.

So, Chhabra teamed up with her mentor, Dr. Johannes H. Bauer, an assistant professor of biology at Southern Methodist University in Texas.

“It’s rare for a high school student to have such a prominent position in the lab. But Ria has tremendous energy and curiosity, and that convinced me to give this research project a try,” Bauer said.

The fruit fly, or Drosophila melanogaster, is used in Bauer’s lab and other research facilities to study human diseases including diabetes, heart disease and even Alzheimer’s. Fruit flies are widely used in research because they’re cheaper and have a shorter life cycle than other lab animal models.

Read the CBS News article.

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SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see www.smu.edu.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.

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UPI: Some organic food may be healthier

The international news wire service UPI has covered research carried out in the fruit fly lab of SMU biologist Johannes H. Bauer by Plano, Texas, high school student Ria Chhabra in its March 27, 2013, article “Some organic food may be healthier.”

Bauer, an assistant professor in SMU’s Department of Biological Sciences, mentored Chhabra in her research to examine whether there would be health differences to fruit flies fed an organic diet or a nonorganic diet. Chhabra’s study found that flies fed an organic diet fared better on important health tests, particularly fertility and longevity.

Read the UPI article.

EXCERPT:

UPI
Fruit flies fed an organic diet did better on tests of general health and two significant measures of health — fertility and longevity, U.S. researchers say.

Ria Chhabra a student at Clark High School in Plano, Texas; biologist Johannes H. Bauer of the Southern Methodist University in Dallas; and Santharam Kolli, a research associate at SMU, said the data demonstrated fruit flies raised on organic food extracts performed better on the majority of health tests.

“We don’t know why the flies on the organic diet did better. That will require further research. But this is a start toward understanding potential health benefits,” Chhabra said in a statement.

Chhabra said the study was inspired by a conversation her parents had on the merits of buying organic food.

Bauer said his laboratory utilized one of the most widely used model systems, the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, often used to study human diseases such as diabetes, heart function and Alzheimer’s disease because of the fruit fly’s short life cycle and low cost.

The study, published in PLoS One, also found some negative or neutral results using diets prepared from organic raisins, which might suggest the beneficial health effects of organic diets might be dependent on specific food items, Bauer said.

Read the UPI article.

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SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see www.smu.edu.

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Fruit flies fed organic diets are healthier than flies fed nonorganic diets, study finds

Fruit flies raised on diets based on organic foods performed better on a variety of health tests, including fertility and longevity

A new study looking at the potential health benefits of organic versus non-organic food found that fruit flies fed an organic diet recorded better health outcomes than flies fed a nonorganic diet.

The study from the lab of SMU biologist Johannes H. Bauer, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, found that fruit flies raised on diets of organic foods performed better on several tests for general health.

“While these findings are certainly intriguing, what we now need to determine is why the flies on the organic diets did better, especially since not all the organic diets we tested provided the same positive health outcomes,” said Bauer, principal investigator for the study.

Fruit flies on organic diets showed improvements on the most significant measures of health, namely fertility and longevity, said high school student researcher Ria Chhabra.

“We don’t know why the flies on the organic diet did better. That will require further research. But this is a start toward understanding potential health benefits,” said Chhabra, a student at Clark High School in Plano, Texas, who led the experiment.

Chhabra sought to conduct the experiments after hearing her parents discuss whether it’s worth it to buy organic foods to achieve possible health benefits.

Bauer, an assistant professor in SMU’s Department of Biological Sciences, mentored Chhabra by helping guide and design her research experiments. The research focus of Bauer’s fruit fly lab is nutrition and its relationship to longevity, health and diabetes.

“It’s rare for a high school student to have such a prominent position in the lab. But Ria has tremendous energy and curiosity, and that convinced me to give this research project a try,” Bauer said.

The findings, “Organically grown food provides health benefits to Drosophila melanogaster,” have been published in the open access journal PLOS One. Buaer and Chhabra co-authored the paper with Santharam Kolli, a research associate at SMU. The article is available from PLOS One online at http://bit.ly/RGB8LJ.

Flies on organic food performed better on some health tests
“The data demonstrated that flies raised on organic food extracts by-and-large performed better on the majority of health tests,” reported the researchers.

It remains unclear why organic diets delivered better health, the researchers said.

The Bauer lab results come at a time when the health effects of organic food are widely debated.

Prior studies by other researchers have found conflicting results when reviewing the scientific literature for data. While several studies have shown elevated nutrient content and lower pesticide contamination levels in organic food, a recent publication reporting a large-scale analysis of all available studies concluded no clear trend was apparent.

Fruit flies were fed extracts from produce purchased at a grocery store
In order to investigate whether organic foods are healthier for consumers, the lab utilized one of the most widely used model systems, the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. Because of the low costs associated with fly research and the fly’s short life cycle, researchers use fruit flies to study human diseases, from diabetes to heart function to Alzheimer’s disease.

The Bauer lab fruit flies were fed organic and nonorganic produce purchased from a leading national grocery retailer of organic and conventional foods. The flies were fed extracts made from organic and conventional potatoes, soybeans, raisins and bananas. They were not fed any additional nutritional supplements. The researchers tested the effects of each food type independently and avoided any confounding effects of a mixed diet.

The health tests measured longevity, fertility, stress and starvation resistance.

Findings suggest beneficial health effects dependent on specific foods
Some negative or neutral results were obtained using diets prepared from organic raisins, which suggests the beneficial health effects of organic diets are dependent on the specific food item, Bauer said. That might explain some of the inconsistent results in the published studies in the scientific literature, he said, noting some studies suggest there is a nutritional benefit from organic food, while others suggest there is not.

“To our surprise, in the majority of our tests of flies on organic foods, the flies fed organic diets did much better on our health tests than the flies fed conventional food,” Bauer said. “Longevity and fertility are the two most important aspects of fly life. On both of these tests, flies fed organic diets performed much better than flies fed conventional diets. They lived longer, had higher fertility, and had a much higher lifetime reproductive output.”

Factors such as soil condition and latitude where the produce was grown weren’t considered, mimicking a typical grocery store shopping experience. — Margaret Allen

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For more information, www.smuresearch.com.

SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see www.smu.edu.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.

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Human diabetes has new research tool: Overfed fruit flies that develop insulin resistance

Researchers find that fruit flies overloading on carbs and protein not only gain weight but have shortened life spans — and develop insulin resistance, a hallmark of Type 2 human diabetes

With Type 2 human diabetes climbing at alarming rates in the United States, researchers are seeking treatments for the disease, which has been linked to obesity and poor diet.

Now biologists at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, report they have developed a new tool that will help researchers better understand this deadly disease.

By manipulating the diets of healthy adult fruit flies, the researchers developed flies that are insulin-resistant, a hallmark of Type 2 diabetes.

Until now, researchers largely have relied on rats, mice and other animals as model systems for exploring the metabolic and genetic changes that take place in diabetics.

A dye test in fruit flies uncovers whether fat cells are responding to insulin. On the left, insulin signaling is active. On the right, insulin signaling is inactive. (Credit: Bauer, SMU)

The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster has been widely deployed in labs to investigate a wide range of human diseases, from Alzheimer’s to cancer. But the scientific literature hasn’t documented use of the adult fruit fly for studying the metabolic disruptions that are the hallmark of Type 2 diabetes. The fruit fly’s advantages include its low cost and a very short lifespan, both of which enable scientists to undertake rapid screenings in their search for new genetic and drug treatments.

The insulin-resistant fruit fly was developed in the lab of SMU biologist Johannes H. Bauer, principal investigator for the study. It was accomplished by feeding fruit flies a diet high in nutrients, said Bauer, an assistant professor in SMU’s Department of Biological Sciences. That process mimics one of the ways insulin resistance develops in humans — overeating to the point of obesity.

The lab’s insulin-resistant fruit flies now can serve as a highly relevant and efficient model for studying Type 2 diabetes.

“We learned that by manipulating the nutrients of fruit flies, we can make them insulin resistant,” Bauer said. “With this insulin-resistant model we can now go in with pinpoint precision and study the molecular mechanisms of insulin resistance, as well as drug treatments for the condition, as well as how to treat obesity, how to block insulin resistance and how metabolic changes from a specific diet develop. The possibilities are endless.”

The researchers reported their findings in the article “Development of diet-induced insulin resistance in adult Drosophila melanogaster,” published in Biochimica et Biophysica Acta – Molecular Basis of Disease.

Two overfeeding diets, carb and protein, both result in insulin resistance
Insulin, produced by the pancreas, is the hormone that tells our cells to absorb glucose, a necessary sugar molecule that provides our body, particularly the brain, with the energy to function, make repairs, move and grow.

In Type 2 diabetes, a person is insulin-resistant because his or her cells fail to respond to insulin’s signal to absorb glucose. The disregulation of glucose upsets the body’s delicate internal equilibrium, causing massive disruptions in normal cellular processes. These interruptions manifest in multiple disease symptoms, making Type 2 diabetes difficult to characterize, treat and cure.

To provide a good base model organism to study aspects of this complex disease, researchers in the Bauer lab wanted to determine whether flies develop diabetes-like metabolic changes when fed different diets. The researchers developed the insulin-resistant flies in two different ways: One group of fruit flies was overfed a carbohydrate-loaded diet; a second group of flies was overfed a protein-loaded diet. In both cases, the disruption had a profoundly detrimental effect on the flies’ health and physiology.

SMU biologist Siti Nur Sarah Morris, lead author on the study, said the results the researchers observed were both expected and unexpected. The researchers expected the flies to gain weight, which they did. Carb-loaded flies gained excessive weight and got fat, just like humans who overeat sweets, french fries, pasta and ice cream. Protein-loaded flies also gained weight, but upon extreme overfeeding they lost weight, just like humans who follow the popular Atkins Diet, a weight loss program in which participants eat only meat, seafood and eggs.

The researchers expected the carb-loaded fruit flies to develop insulin resistance, which they did.

In a surprising result, however, the fruit flies that overate protein also developed insulin resistance, but at a quicker and more severe rate.

“Carb-loaded flies gain weight. Protein-loaded flies gain and then lose weight. So the two diets have exactly opposite effects on metabolism,” Bauer said. “But too much of either one of them causes insulin resistance. That surprised us.”

Overfed flies had shortened lifespans, differences in fertility
In other findings, carb-loaded flies experienced a profound decline in egg-laying, a measurement of fertility. In contrast, protein-loaded flies first experienced increased egg-laying, but the extreme diet led to decreased egg laying. Both diets led to shortened longevity, the scientists reported.

“The high-protein flies looked frail and unhealthy. They moved less, almost as if sedated,” Morris said. “The fatter flies on the high-carb diet had massively decreased fertility; they flew less but still tried to move.”

While both diets resulted in insulin resistance, differences were remarkable.

“The carb data imply a linear relationship between carb levels and health. The more carbs, the more weight, the more sugar storage and fat, the more insulin resistance and the less fertility,” Bauer said. “But with protein, this relationship becomes parabolic, meaning all readouts go up, then come down again. The decreased storage we liken to a catabolic state that is primarily destructive for the body’s optimum metabolic functioning, such as the ketosis typically seen in people eating Atkins-type diets.”

Besides Morris and Bauer, other authors on the study were SMU students Claire Coogan, Khalil Chamseddin and Santharam Kolli. Other co-authors, from Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Baton Rouge, La., are Jeffrey N. Keller, director, Institute of Dementia Research & Prevention, and Sun Ok Fernandez-Kim. The research was funded by the National Institute on Aging. — Margaret Allen

SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see www.smu.edu.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.