The early stage research found that flies fed on a diet from organic foods had better scores on several 'general health' tests - including improving fertility and longevity - than their counterparts fed a standard non-organic diet.
Led by Professor Johannes Bauer from the Southern Methodist University, USA - who worked with high school student researcher Ria Chhabra - the team noted that the organic food market is one of the fastest growing food sectors, "yet it is unclear whether organically raised food is nutritionally superior to conventionally grown food and whether consuming organic food bestows health benefits."
"In order to evaluate potential health benefits of organic foods, we used the well-characterized fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model system," they explained.
"The data demonstrated that flies raised on organic food extracts by-and-large performed better on the majority of health tests," reported Bauer and his team, who noted that it remains unclear why organic diets delivered better health test results.
The fruit fly findings come at a time when the health effects of organic food are widely debated by both consumers and academics - with previous research publications producing conflicting results, said Bauer.
While several studies have suggested 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, they noted.
"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.
"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," Bauer added.
Fruit fly research
In order to investigate whether organic foods are healthier for consumers, the lab utilised one of the most widely used model systems - the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. Bauer and his team noted that because of the low costs associated with fly research and the fly's short life cycle, many researchers use fruit flies to study human diseases.
In the stud, fruit flies were fed organic and nonorganic produce purchased from a US-based national grocery retailer of organic and conventional foods. Flies were fed extracts made from organic and conventional potatoes, soybeans, raisins and bananas. They were not fed any additional nutritional supplements.
The team then tested the effects of each food type independently and avoided any confounding effects of a mixed diet. Health tests measured longevity, fertility, stress and starvation resistance.
"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."