Wouldn’t it be nice if our microbiomes could serve up diet advice—some science-based assurance that our food and medicines act in harmony with our resident microbes to keep us healthy? For that to happen, scientists will need to better understand how the interaction between food and microbes affects the chemical composition of our guts. Now, a team of researchers has developed an edible device that passes through the digestive tract, measuring concentrations of intestinal gases along the way. The 2.6-centimeter-long capsule (above) contains sensors for hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide, which can spike and dip as microbes break down components of our meals and release various byproducts. In a pilot study published today in Nature Electronics, six volunteers experimented with high and low fiber diets while the pill transmitted signals to a pocket-size receiver every 5 minutes. Their preliminary tests showed that the pill's readouts can reflect changing levels of fermentation in the gut and the speed of food’s transit through the body. Turning those data into specific recommendations will be much more complicated. But the researchers suggest these gas readouts could someday help design more healthful foods and possibly diagnose digestive problems.
*Correction, 8 January, 9:55 a.m.: An earlier version of this story misstated the length of the capsule.