A scientist figured out how to get data from farts, and it could save lives.

"What did you EAT?!"

Photo via iStock.


It's probably the most common question that follows an untimely (or, timely, depending on who you're with) bout of flatulence.

I'm talking about farting, people. Letting one rip. Making a stink. Going "Insane in the Methane."

GIF from "The Simpsons."

Though we've given a nickname to each and every one of their many variations — the "squeaker," the "SBD," the "Dutch oven" — and used them as the punchline to many a juvenile joke, the only thing more discomforting than a fart itself is how little we actually know about them.

Some experts will tell you that the old one cheek sneak is a sign of healthy gut microbes. Others will say that it could be an early indicator of a much more serious stomach problem, like inflammatory bowel disease or even colon cancer. I'm pretty sure that not letting them go causes spontaneous combustion, but what are we supposed to think?! If only there were someone who could settle this debate once and for all!

Thankfully, there is one man who thinks he has found a cure for our wind-breaking woes.

His name is Peter Gibson, and he's the professor and director of fartology — which I've learned is technically called "gastroenterology" —at the Alfred Centre and Monash University in Australia.

Over the past few years, Professor Gibson has been working tirelessly to create a device capable of measuring our gas at each stage of digestion.

“What comes out of the backside only tells us about the last 20cm of the gut,” Gibson said to BBC. “We know bits and pieces about it, but it’s been very difficult to get to the crux of what is happening."

Recently, Gibson's team had a breakthrough in the form of a tiny, swallowable, high-tech capsule that tracks your gas as it passes through your system.

Think of it as a "fart monitor," if you will.

Me right now. GIF from "30 Rock."

Wired to provide real-time measurements of our bowels, Gibson's capsule takes samples of gas at regular intervals in the digestive system.

The capsule then relays its readings to a tablet computer. It's also affixed with a sensor to evaluate other key factors about the gut, like ambient temperature and acidity (which especially comes in handy when the capsule is nearing the end of its Magic School Bus-esque journey).

“You want to know if it’s passed out of the backside, but you wouldn’t know because it’s just part of the stool,” Gibson explained. “When the temperature falls, that’s when it’s gone outside.”

Gibson has already begun testing his pill device on pigs and is hoping to begin human trials in the next few months.

If all goes according to plan, Gibson and his team will be able to use the information taken from these trials to create (I'm not joking here) a "fart library" of data that could determine the makeup of gases related to different lifestyles and diseases down the line, more accurately measuring the effects of different treatments for these diseases.

The gases we produce can tell us a lot about the state of our stomachs.

Photo via iStock.

How we digest food is not only a matter of our differing diets and metabolisms, but also a matter of gene development as well. When the microbes in our intestines become irritated or otherwise harmed, they can release excess gases that not only cause discomfort, but also serve as precursors to other health problems.

For example, too much hydrogen and methane in your farts could mean you have problems with digesting carbs. Too much methane could be the cause of your constipation. Excess hydrogen sulphide (aka the stink in our stink bombs) could signal that the lining of your gut has become damaged.

Basically, our farts are like snowflakes — unique and individual to us all. And a change in their odor could be a cause for concern.

So I say bravo to Gibson and his team for rolling their sleeves up and doing the dirty work required to ensure our future well-being. May his findings truly cause a stink in the gastrointestinal scientific community.

Now if only there was a similar capsule that could actually convince the people around us that it really was the dog's fault...

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

The difference between a politician and a public servant may be a matter of semantics, but when it comes to getting legislation passed that actually helps people, the contrast is stark.

Texas Representative James Talarico is on a mission to get his constituents the life-saving medicine they need. The 31-year-old lawmaker has just introduced legislation that would cap the price of insulin—a medicine people with type 1 diabetes need to live, which has become unaffordable for many—at $50 a month.

The mission is personal for Talarico, as he nearly died three years ago when he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

He shared his story on Twitter:

"In May 2018, I was a healthy 28-year-old running for the Texas House. I decided to walk the entire length of my district and hold town halls along the way. I hike Big Bend every year, so I wasn't concerned about a 25 mile walk...

But halfway through the walk, I began feeling nauseous and fatigued. Before the town hall in Hutto, I vomited in the bathroom."

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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