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A capsule that assesses the health of your gut

Peter Clarke / RMIT University Edible sensor detects gases released by bacteriaPeter Clarke / RMIT University

A capsule created by researchers from Australia, smaller than a typical vitamin tablet, contains a sensor that measures gases in the digestive tract. At about 2.5 centimeters (cm) long and 1 cm thick, the capsule contains two gas sensors, a temperature sensor, and a microcontroller, as well as a battery and a radio transmitter. Electrical engineer Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh, from RMIT University, Australia, developed the device with colleagues as a less invasive way to investigate gastrointestinal health. The capsule detects the gases released by microorganisms in our intestines as it travels through the digestive tract. Kalantar-zadeh and his team initially tested the device on six healthy adults—some of whom had consumed a high-fiber diet for the previous two days, and some who had eaten a low-fiber diet. The oxygen levels signaled where in the digestive tract the sensor was located, while the amount of hydrogen, which is released during the fermentation of food, revealed the activity levels of bacteria in the intestines (Nature Electronics, January). The study was able to identify that one of the volunteers had intestinal constipation due to the low amount of fiber in their diet. Kalantar-zadeh expects the device, which is less invasive than a colonoscopy, to become a useful tool for identifying colitis, Crohn’s disease, and even cancer.