Young Student Answers Organic Debate With Fruit Flies

By Heather Callaghan

When Dallas-based 16-year old Ria Chhabra was in middle school, she overheard her parents debating the value of organic versus conventional produce. She decided to put the debate to rest and win the local science fair.

She discovered that organic had more vitamin C than what we call conventional produce (with pesticides). She kept going and recently, her work was published in PLOS ONE peer reviewed online science journal. Check out her work, “Organically Grown Food Provides Health Benefits to Drosophila melanogaster.” She has won a variety of honors including lab privileges that grad students envy.

What was her big conclusion? After weeks of tracking the activities of fruit flies it was determined that the ones who feasted on organic potatoes, raisins, or soy had health that soared past the ones dining on conventional produce. Organic versus conventional bananas did not pose significant difference. She tested for stress resistance, fertility and longevity. Scientists are hesitant to correlate fruit fly health with humans, but love to use them for study because of their short life spans and quicker results.

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She is called “extraordinary” by the lone professor with a fly lab who embraced her request for help. Dr. Johannes Bauer of South Methodist University enjoyed working with his youngest colleague and will be sorry to see her go soon, as she’ll have her pick of top colleges. “The seriousness with which she approached this was just stunning,” he stated.

Now a sophomore in Plano, Texas, Ria said:

I had no idea what publishing my research meant. My mom told me, ‘This is a pretty big deal.’

She is currently studying Type 2 diabetes in fruit flies at the lab for her 10th grade science fair project. But she wants to build on that with the study of alternative treatment like cinnamon and turmeric – and see if it alleviates the disorder in flies.
Dr. Bauer had some interesting thoughts on organic produce and fly health – sort of like the “which came first, chicken or egg?” scenario. Are the different health outcomes of the flies due to pesticide and fungicide residue on the conventional fruit – or, do the bonus nutrients in organic build greater survival and ward off pests and fungi? Instead of and/or couldn’t it be a “both”? He wants to explore those health benefits for animals and humans but adds, “There are no hard data on that…”

A TV doctor made waves when he recanted his previous praise for organic and suddenly decided there was no difference, almost mimicking a New York Times article verbatim. Think she’ll be on his show anytime soon? Around the same time, an organic activist suddenly switched to GMO love with great apologies and desire for “real science.” With hope, Ria’s hard work, praised by reputable science journals, will stand the test of time and spread to quell the “no difference between organic and conventional” talk.

There is no more debate for Ria’s family – it’s organic from now on.Image: Wikimedia Commons


Photo by Jared Belson

Heather Callaghan is a natural health blogger and food freedom activist. You can see her work at and Like at Facebook.

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