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Sampling Your Gut Bacteria For Weight Loss Will Be As Simple As Swallowing A Pill

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
Bacteria capturing capsules may aid gut biome related obesity.

Two recent separate studies report that it is possible to collect samples of your gut bacteria without having to resort to invasive procedures like colonoscopy by simply swallowing a special pill. Watch this special video on how it works.


There is a considerable amount of interest in gut microbiome research as a way to prevent and fight disease. Health experts believe that the type of bacteria we have in our digestive tract just might be the root cause of many maladies, which potentially could be successfully treated simply by changing the microflora in our gut.

One example of particular interest is in preventing or treating obesity. Previous research has shown that the gut bacteria in obese individuals differ from that found in thin people. In fact, one proposed method was to transfer the fecal matter from a thin person into the colon of an obese person as a way to get good bacteria in the gut of someone who has too much bad bacteria that might be causing weight gain.

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A more desirable way to achieve a gut filled with the right kind of bacteria for a healthy digestive tract, however, is the more popular probiotics route that you can get from eating cultured yogurt or fermented foods like Kimchi.

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However, scientists note that therapeutics for understanding and treating diseases that are associated with the gut microbiome would be greatly improved if collecting samples from the gut were much easier than having to perform an invasive procedure like colonoscopy or endoscopy.

As it turns out, two recent separate studies report that collecting bacteria from differing regions of the digestive tract is possible by using specially designed easily-swallowed capsules that can collect bacterial samples as the pill passes through the digestive tract and is recovered via bowel movements.

Bacteria-Capturing Capsules

Both studies utilize some form of capsule that contains specially formulated gel matrixes that can trap bacteria as the capsule passes through the digestive tract. The capsules’ have the ability for controlled bio-degrading of either a cap or of a protective outer coat that acts as a type of time-delay so that specific regions of the tract can be sampled and collected. Different regions of the digestive tract possess differing bacterial types, so this controlled bio-degrading of the sampling device allows targeted sampling.

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“It’s all about being able to take samples of bacteria anywhere in the gut. That was impossible before,” said Rahim Rahimi, a Purdue assistant professor of materials engineering and principal investigator of the study.

Here’s a YouTube video demonstrating how the devices work:

This far the devices have been tested on rats and pigs with excellent results and have not demonstrated any untoward effects such as inflammation or toxicity.

The researchers believe that not only will these devices be able to collect bacteria from the gut, but could also be used to deliver therapeutics such as insulin. These devices are expected to advance their understanding of host-microbiome interactions, providing insight into associated GI disease progression and paving the way for personalized gut therapies, including weight management and obesity.

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Timothy Boyer has a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona. For 20+ years he has been employed as a freelance health and science writer. Today, with an eye on the latest news, Timothy continues writing about science with a focus on what you need to know for healthier living. For continual updates about health, you can also follow Timothy on Twitter at TimBoyerWrites.

Image Source: Courtesy of Purdue University photo/Mark Simons.


Swallowing this colonoscopy-like bacteria grabber could reveal secrets about your health” Purdue University News August 2020.

Smart capsule for non-invasive sampling and studying of the gastrointestinal microbiome” Jose Fernando et al. RSC Advances, 2020; 10 (28): 16313 DOI: 10.1039/c9ra10986b

Sampling the gut microbiome with an ingestible pill” American Chemical Society news release, 9 September 2020.

An Ingestible Self-Polymerizing System for Targeted Sampling of Gut Microbiota and Biomarkers” Lu Chen, et al., ACS Nano, 2020; Publication Date: August 24, 2020; https://doi.org/10.1021/acsnano.0c05426