A set of scientific studies probing the health effects and stability of a calorie-free natural sweetener that Cargill Inc. and Coca-Cola Co. aim to market are expected to be published Thursday, offering evidence of its safety, according to people familiar with the research, the Wall Street Journal is reporting.

The findings were funded by Cargill and are being published online in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology. The results could put the two companies one step closer toward gaining U.S. regulatory approval for their sweetener, which is derived from the South American herb stevia.

The companies hope the sweetener, which bears the brand name Truvia and the common name rebiana, will give them a lock on the "holy grail" of sweeteners: one that sweetens foods and beverages naturally, has no calories and tastes good.

Stevia isn't approved for use as a food additive in the U.S. Studies over the past two decades on its health effects have logged in a number of problems, from research in 1985 finding potential mutations in the livers of rats to concerns about fertility problems in men.

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