Scientists have developed an experimental ingestible electronic capsule that can detect gases such as oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide present in the human gut and also shed light on the microbes that live within it.
The capsule provides a potentially powerful diagnostic technique that could offer unique insights into the effects of diet and medical supplements.
It might also be used as a monitoring tool to help develop individualised diets, according to the study.
"Our gas capsule offers an accurate and safe tool for monitoring the effects of diet of individuals, and has the potential to be used as a diagnostic tool for the gut," said Kourosh Kalantar-Zadeh from the RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia.
The capsules come with a non-transparent, polyethylene shell which includes sensors for the gases operating in various aerobic and anaerobic conditions, a temperature sensor, a microcontroller, a transmission system (433MHz), and button-size silver oxide batteries.
The capsule can, for instance, sense oxygen content where it is located in the gut.
Oxygen was found to be high in the stomach and fall off throughout the intestines and when the pill senses an oxygen-free environment, it exits.
Researchers get information about the gut microbiome's activity wherever the capsule happens to be in the digestive tract, from the other two gases.
According to the researchers, the capsule could be of significant value in the individualisation of drug disposition or the use of dietary manipulations.
"Our pilot trial illustrated the significant potential role for electronic-based gas-sensing capsules in understanding functional aspects of the intestine and its microbiota in health and in response to dietary changes," Kalantar-Zadeh added.
The pill was first introduced in early 2015, in the hope that it would help doctors identify which foods were problematic for their patients by detecting and measuring intestinal gases produced by gut bacteria.
The researchers discovered that people whose diets are high in fibre-content have high oxygen levels in their colon.
This goes against a long-held theory that the colon was oxygen free and could help scientists work out how colon cancer develops.
''For the first time we have a tool that actually gives information about the activities of the microbiome inside the gut,'' Kalantar Zadeh said.