Gut Check: Gas-Sniffing Capsule Charts The Digestive Tract

The electronic pill looks like the biggest multivitamin a human could possibly swallow. Tests have show that the experimental device can measure gases tied to microbes and digestion.
These large capsules, which can be swallowed, measure three different gases as they traverse the gastrointestinal tract. Source: Courtesy of Peter T. Clarke/RMIT University

To study the human gut and the microbes that live within it, scientists have a couple of options. They can grab a small piece of tissue from the gastrointestinal tract or collect a sample of fecal matter.

Neither way is ideal, says Jack Gilbert, a microbiologist and director of the Microbiome Center at the University of Chicago. "By studying [the sample], you're changing it, just by observing it, because you have to cut it out and analyze it," he says.

But a third way may become available to both scientists and clinicians. It's an ingestible electronic

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from NPR

NPR2 min readSociety
'Wake-Up Call' About A Broken System: New Study Shows Failings Of Probation, Parole
The nationwide analysis has concluded that probation and parole violations amount to nearly half of admissions to state prisons. The majority of those violations were minor infractions.
NPR3 min readSociety
NPR Identifies 4th Attacker In Civil Rights-Era Cold Case
A fourth man was involved in the 1965 attack on civil rights worker and minister James Reeb, but that man was never identified or charged in Reeb's murder, an NPR investigation revealed.
NPR2 min read
Google Will Devote $1 Billion To Try To Tame Housing Costs In S.F. Bay Area
Over the next 10 years, Google hopes to help bring 20,000 new homes to the local market. Part of the plan calls for rezoning company-owned land so that it can be used for residential housing.