Bioluminescent Bacteria Give More Proof That Artificial Sweeteners Are Toxic


Oct 10, 2018


In case you weren’t already aware of the dangers of artificial sweeteners to your health, bioluminescent E. coli bacteria are here to spell it out for you.

In a collaborative study, researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in Israel, and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, used bioluminescent bacteria to detect the toxicity of artificial sweeteners when digested, and their effect on gut bacteria. Testing the FDA-approved six artificial sweeteners (aspartame, sucralose, saccharine, neotame, advantame, and acesulfame potassium-k), and 10 sports supplements containing these sweeteners, the study found that bacteria in the digestive system becomes toxic when exposed to just one milliliter/milligram of the sweeteners.

“We modified bioluminescent E. coli bacteria, which luminesce when they detect toxicants and act as a sensing model representative of the complex microbial system,” says Ariel Kushmaro, PhD, a professor of biotechnology at BGU. “This is further evidence that consumption of artificial sweeteners adversely affects gut microbial activity, which can cause a wide range of health issues.”

Good gut bacteria is important for your digestive health, while also playing a part in metabolising vitamins, regulating hormones, and strengthening immunity. It’s therefore a cause for concern that artificial sweeteners — which are included in most food and drink, often consumed by people without their knowledge — can be toxic to our digestive systems.

As their influence on consumers’ health is still being investigated, there is currently no consensus among the medical community about the long-lasting effects of artificial sweeteners. However, these sugar substitutes have been linked to cancer, weight gain, metabolic disorders, type-2 diabetes, and now, inhibited function of gut bacteria.

In addition, artificial sweeteners are also posing a problem to the environment, polluting drinking and surface water, and groundwater aquifers. While further research needs to be done, the study authors seem hopeful their findings can be used to explore and correct these negative effects of artificial sweeteners on humans and ecosystems.

“The results of this study might help in understanding the relative toxicity of artificial sweeteners and the potential of negative effects on the gut microbial community as well as the environment,” says Prof. Kushmaro. “Furthermore, the tested bioluminescent bacterial panel can potentially be used for detecting artificial sweeteners in the environment.”

So, the next time you reach for that diet soda or sports drink, remember that bioluminescent bacteria, lighting up as a warning.


Written By Nadia Nooreyezdan

Nadia Nooreyezdan is The Swaddle’s culture editor. Since graduating from Columbia Journalism School, she spends her time thinking about aliens, cyborgs, and social justice sci-fi. She’s also working on a memoir about her family’s journey from Iran to India.


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