Let the Institute of Food Research take you on an Incredible Journey at The Big Bang Fair

4th February 2014

There’s an incredible journey that’s taken several times each day. It’s only 9 metres long, but without it we wouldn’t survive. It’s a journey that involves a cast of trillions, locked in a constant battle to keep out invaders whilst performing vital tasks that provide the fuel for our daily lives. But despite this, it’s a journey most of us know little about, and even fewer have seen, and only now is science catching up with some of the amazing feats that happen along the way.

At this year’s Big Bang Fair, the Institute of Food Research are going to bring this incredible journey to the eyes of tens of thousands of children for the first time, using the latest hi-tech imaging and cameras to follow the incredible journey food takes through our body.

web-banner_728x90_FINThink your stomach is just a big bag for all the food to go in? Think again as amazing MRI scans show how what we eat changes how the stomach works, and how it ‘thinks’ for itself. And find out from IFR’s scientists how we might be able to trick it into making us feel fuller for longer.

stomachThen follow the rest of the journey through the body on board a miniature camera eaten by one of IFR’s scientists. End to end, the small intestine reaches from one football goalpost to another. But see for yourself how its structure is adapted to give it the same surface area of the entire football pitch. We need all of this inside us to absorb the essential nutrients from our food – but how does this happen? How does our body know what nutrients to take up, and how do we keep out things we don’t want, like invading disease causing bacteria.

What happens to these nutrients after they’ve been taken up? We all know we should eat 5 portions of fruit and veg a day, but exactly what is it that makes them healthy, and how do they affect our body? Uncover the very latest science behind this and efforts to make our food and diets even healthier.

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Ruminococcus gnavus bacteria, one of the many species that make up the gut microbiota

Go further along the incredible journey and meet the bacteria that call our gut home. There are ten times more bacteria in our guts than there are cells in our body. If each of these bacteria was the size of a golf ball, they’d fill a football pitch to a height of over 400m. There are hundreds of different species of bacteria that colonise us from a very early age, and everyone has their own unique set of these, called the microbiota. But exactly what they do is still shrouded in mystery. We know they play a role in our immune system, help extract nutrients and vitamins from our food for us to absorb, and also stop ‘bad’ bacteria from making our bodies their home. IFR’s scientists will explain how they are using the latest scientific techniques to get to grips with this community inside of us, so we can stop things going wrong with it and reduce a number of diseases and conditions.

colonCompleting this incredible journey is a giant inflatable colon, so you can really get a feel for how it might be like deep inside your own body (don’t worry, it’s much cleaner than the real thing!). In here you can get an idea of how this part of our digestive tract works, and what happens when it goes wrong. We’re teaming up with cancer Research UK to raise awareness of bowel cancer, the UK’s third most common cancer, and highlighting how research at IFR and elsewhere is hoping to tackle this and other diseases.

The Institute of Food Research is the only publicly-funded research institute in the UK focused on the science of food, health and the gut. We’re bringing all of this together to take you on the incredible journey food takes through our bodies at The Big Bang UK Young Scientists & Engineers Fair at The NEC, Birmingham, 13 – 16th March 2014.


IFR Press Office:

Andrew Chapple, andrew.chapple@quadram.ac.uk, 01603 251490