We've all been there: on the treadmill, in line to buy coffee, or stuck on an airplane when someone lets one loose. You can't escape the unbearable stench. All you can do is try to sniff out the culprit, then curse them and your bad luck.
But before you consign the stench-bomber to Dante's smelliest circle, know this: That poor flatulent soul is just a victim of the bacteria living inside them, churning out stink. And their passed gas may actually be a sign something (other than their manners) is wrong. The bacteria that inhabit our guts have a profound effect on our health, and scientists have come to learn they can use these gases to assess how well our intestines are working. For instance, recent research has shown that an uptick in methane levels in your breath is associated with irritable bowel syndrome and constipation. (Tiny amounts of gas produced in the intestine actually end up in your breath.)
This is similar to the way doctors use levels of sugar in blood to see if your pancreas is up to par. Except for one very big caveat: We can measure sugar directly. Just draw blood. But our gases are — for the most part — trapped inside us. There isn't an easy way to get at them, and that's a problem.
In a new paper in the journal Trends in Biotechnology, scientists from Melbourne University in Australia have dreamed up a pill-shaped, battery-powered gas-measuring computer to do just that. You'd swallow the thing — just like any other pill — and it would make its way through your digestive tract detecting the gases that your gut bacteria are burping out. Its wireless transmitter would beam the data it collected from inside your body to you and your doctor, in real time. The hope is that this flatulence live-stream will help doctors identify when the gut starts to malfunction and eventually help them to develop new therapies.
The scientists make no mention of this, but once this gas capsule is ready for primetime, someone out there will probably build an app so you can share your intestinal status updates with your friends: Fartbook for the Apple Watch. You heard it here first.
Daniela Hernandez is a senior writer at Fusion. She likes science, robots, pugs, and coffee.