MAY 20, 2022 10:00 AM PDT

Bacteria with recording function capture gut health status

Bacteria, also known as microbes, get a bad rap. We’re all taught that bacteria are bad, and we need to do what’s necessary to get rid of it. Bacteria leads to diseases and very bad things. What you might not know is that bacteria can be good for you. What we don’t know is that there are literally trillions of bacteria living both in and on your body right now, and most don’t even harm you. They’re actually there to help you in a variety of ways, to include how you digest food, keep your healthy, and maintain our reproductive health. Now scientists have discovered a way to help improve this positive impact that bacteria have on our bodies.

In a recent study published in Science, researchers from the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering at ETH Zurich in Basel modified bacteria such that they function as data loggers for information on gene activity. They then worked with scientists from the University Hospital of Bern and the University of Bern to test these bacteria on mice. This is an important step towards using sensor bacteria in medicine in the future for applications such as diagnosing malnutrition and understanding which diets are good for an individual.

"This new method lets us obtain information directly from the gut, without having to disturb intestinal functions," says Andrew Macpherson, Professor and Director of Gastroenterology at University Hospital Bern. “Bacteria are very good at registering environmental conditions and adapting their metabolism to new circumstances such as dietary changes.”

The researchers would like to further develop the method, so that one day they can study human patients to see how diet influences the gut ecosystem and how this affects health. In the future, they hope to use the method to determine the dietary status of children or adults. Armed with this information, doctors will be able to diagnose malnutrition or decide whether a patient needs nutritional supplements.

Malnutrition is a very serious global issue and takes many forms, to include undernutrition (wasting, stunting, or underweight), inadequate vitamins and minerals, obesity, and resulting diet-related noncommunicable diseases. Globally, 1.9 billion adults are obese, while 462 million are underweight, and it was estimated in 2020 that 149 million children were stunted. Also, around 45% of deaths among children under 5 years of age are linked to undernutrition.

How far can this research go in fighting malnutrition? Only time will tell, and this is why we science!

As always, keep doing science & keep looking up!

Sources: National Institutes of Health, Science, World Health Organization,

MS in Geological Sciences
Laurence Tognetti is a six-year USAF Veteran who earned both a BSc and MSc from the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. Laurence is extremely passionate about outer space and science communication, and is the author of “Outer Solar System Moons: Your Personal 3D Journey”.
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