Skip to main content

Researchers build model of human colon and feed it to learn how disease spreads

Researchers build model of human colon and feed it to learn how disease spreads

Share this story

Artificial colon model (Credit: Alicia A. Taylor/UC Riverside)
Artificial colon model (Credit: Alicia A. Taylor/UC Riverside)

A researcher at the University of California Riverside spent a year building a model of a human colon out of commonplace materials, then "fed" it with real food, to study how bacteria spreads from feces into the water supply. "I hadn't seen any research done that used a model colon to find out what happened downstream" said Ian Marcus, the recently graduated UC Riverside PhD student who built the system, told The Verge. What Marcus and his colleagues found out is worrisome: when mixed with human fecal matter, disease-causing e. coli bacteria can survive longer in groundwater than previous studies indicated. "People might think that if there's an outbreak that's been contained, 'we're good,' but it turns out the bacteria could stay around longer and linger," Marcus said, noting that the problem was likeliest to occur in rural water supplies such as wells as reservoirs.

"It can, in theory, move along water pipes."

Marcus built the colon out of a 20-inch-long glass tube and rubber stoppers. He and his teammates filled it with real, beneficial, human intestinal bacteria — the kind that helps us digest food and doesn't make us sick — and added a food solution to simulate digestion. Then they took some of the resulting mixture out and put it in another chamber simulating a septic tank. Later, they added harmful, illness-causing e. coli bacteria to the mix. What they found was that although the e. coli did not spread as far as it did in previous simulations, it was more likely to form a biofilm, a type of sticky network of bacteria cells that can live longer than bacteria cells on their own. This biofilm could then pass disease on through water pipes over a longer period of time. "It can, in theory, move along water pipes," Marcus said. He and his colleagues recently published a paper on their results in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

Marcus cautioned that the results were obtained in a laboratory setting and that they shouldn't be used to generalize when it comes to the interplay between all septic and groundwater systems around the world or the US. However, he maintains that the system he and his colleagues built is more accurate than previous systems for the purpose of testing how bacteria spreads from the human gut through water pipes, because the UC Riverside colon mimicked the dehydration function of an actual human colon more precisely than others (the fact that the actual colon removes water as it breaks down food), and that it used a more "Western" type of food source. "I saw that other model colons used a protein powder mixture, but I used a mixture that's much more chunky," Marcus said, adding that he had to feed the colon "three times a day," the same number of times that humans are supposed to eat.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed Sep 24 Not just you

External Link
Emma RothSep 24
California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoes the state’s “BitLicense” law.

The bill, called the Digital Financial Assets Law, would establish a regulatory framework for companies that transact with cryptocurrency in the state, similar to New York’s BitLicense system. In a statement, Newsom says it’s “premature to lock a licensing structure” and that implementing such a program is a “costly undertaking:”

A more flexible approach is needed to ensure regulatory oversight can keep up with rapidly evolving technology and use cases, and is tailored with the proper tools to address trends and mitigate consumer harm.

Andrew WebsterSep 24
Look at this Thing.

At its Tudum event today, Netflix showed off a new clip from the Tim Burton series Wednesday, which focused on a very important character: the sentient hand known as Thing. The full series starts streaming on November 23rd.

Welcome to the new Verge

Revolutionizing the media with blog posts

Nilay PatelSep 13
The Verge
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Get ready for some Netflix news.

At 1PM ET today Netflix is streaming its second annual Tudum event, where you can expect to hear news about and see trailers from its biggest franchises, including The Witcher and Bridgerton. I’ll be covering the event live alongside my colleague Charles Pulliam-Moore, and you can also watch along at the link below. There will be lots of expected names during the stream, but I have my fingers crossed for a new season of Hemlock Grove.

Andrew WebsterSep 24
Looking for something to do this weekend?

Why not hang out on the couch playing video games and watching TV. It’s a good time for it, with intriguing recent releases like Return to Monkey Island, Session: Skate Sim, and the Star Wars spinoff Andor. Or you could check out some of the new anime on Netflix, including Thermae Romae Novae (pictured below), which is my personal favorite time-traveling story about bathing.

A screenshot from the Netflix anime Thermae Romae Novae.
Thermae Romae Novae.
Image: Netflix
Tom WarrenSep 23
Has the Windows 11 2022 Update made your gaming PC stutter?

Nvidia GPU owners have been complaining of stuttering and poor frame rates with the latest Windows 11 update, but thankfully there’s a fix. Nvidia has identified an issue with its GeForce Experience overlay and the Windows 11 2022 Update (22H2). A fix is available in beta from Nvidia’s website.

External Link
If you’re using crash detection on the iPhone 14, invest in a really good phone mount.

Motorcycle owner Douglas Sonders has a cautionary tale in Jalopnik today about the iPhone 14’s new crash detection feature. He was riding his LiveWire One motorcycle down the West Side Highway at about 60 mph when he hit a bump, causing his iPhone 14 Pro Max to fly off its handlebar mount. Soon after, his girlfriend and parents received text messages that he had been in a horrible accident, causing several hours of panic. The phone even called the police, all because it fell off the handlebars. All thanks to crash detection.

Riding a motorcycle is very dangerous, and the last thing anyone needs is to think their loved one was in a horrible crash when they weren’t. This is obviously an edge case, but it makes me wonder what other sort of false positives we see as more phones adopt this technology.

External Link
Ford is running out of its own Blue Oval badges.

Running out of semiconductors is one thing, but running out of your own iconic nameplates is just downright brutal. The Wall Street Journal reports badge and nameplate shortages are impacting the automaker's popular F-series pickup lineup, delaying deliveries and causing general chaos.

Some executives are even proposing a 3D printing workaround, but they didn’t feel like the substitutes would clear the bar. All in all, it's been a dreadful summer of supply chain setbacks for Ford, leading the company to reorganize its org chart to bring some sort of relief.