The bestseller “Gut: The Inside Story of the Body’s Most Underrated Organ” by Giulia and Jill enders takes a very direct and humorous look at human digestion. A special exhibition of the same name opened at experimenta on December 4. It is the first time it can be seen in Germany. Visitors can explore the peculiar world of the human gut until May 1, 2022. The exhibition is accompanied by offerings in the Experimental Kitchen and lab courses for school classes.
The intestines play a very important role in health, the immune system and general well-being. With the diverse micro-organisms that live in it, gut microbiota – like a fingerprint – are unique to the individual. Still, this organ has long been neglected. That changed with the beststeller “Gut: The Inside Story of the Body’s Most Underrated Organ” by Giulia and Jill Enders. With their book, they have made an important contribution to changing the gut’s image from an underrated to an exceptional organ.
An underrated organ takes center stage
In the exhibition, “Gut: The Inside Story of the Body’s Most Underrated Organ “, visitors learn more about the long-neglected organ. Sisters Giulia and Jill Enders were involved in its conceptual design. While the texts were penned by Giulia Enders, the drawings by Jill Enders play a creative key role – as they do in the book. The result is an educational as well as entertaining journey inside the human body, focusing on the question of what happens as soon as food enters the body. “Good science communication is free from of fear or shame. That has always been important to us – even as we worked on this exhibition,” states Giulia Enders in explaining her intentions. “We were very excited to see the book come to life at the science center, where it is tangibly experienced and becomes three-dimensional,” Jill Enders adds.
The exhibition is divided into three sections: the first part is a tour through the digestive system in which the digestive organs and their functions are introduced – from the mouth to the anus. In the second part, the focus is on the world of microbes, that is, all of the mircroorganisms in our gut. The third major theme is devoted to the gut’s well-being and explains ways to preserve the individual microbiome, our intestinal flora, and to improve daily eating habits.
In the 750 m² exhibition, numerous interactive stations alternate with films in which real organs as well as images made with magnetic resonance tomography can be seen. The exhibition was developed by the Cité des sciences et de l’industrie in Paris in cooperation with the Finnish science center Heureka as well as the Pavilhão do Conhecimento – Ciência Viva technical museum and science center in Lisbon.
Into the digestive tract!
At the entrance to the exhibition, a gigantic mouth “swallows” visitors who embark on a journey of discovery through the digestive tract. Where does the oeosophagus lead to? Where are stomach, small and large intestines in the abdomen? Using two different headless silhouettes, adults and children alike can trace where the organs are in the body. Two films made using magnet resonance and x-ray imaging provide fascinating real-time insight into the process of digestion. A true miracle tonic is found in an old medicine cabinet: saliva. A human being produces a liter of saliva every day. Saliva is not just important for food intake and digestion. Its other superpowers can be discovered by young and old in the exhibition as well as why it is easier to burp when reclining on the left side of the body.
Direct experience is a key part of the exhibition: at an interactive wall, visitors can trigger an allergic reaction to food or observe while feeding a figure what all happens in the mouth and intestines – from chewing to elimination. Visitors are amazed by a rope depicting the entire length of the large and small intestines and revealing its dimensions as it unrolls. Sitting on the toilet is ultimately a question of positioning. Visitors learn what the ideal position is by trying out seats in the WC corner. Without shame, with a lot of charm and in the usual humorous tone adopted by the Enders sisters, the exhibition explains how the sphincter muscles work. There is also no mystery to the different forms of bowel movement. Ultimately, shape, color and consistency can provide useful information about our digestion and possible illnesses.
Little, but mighty: bacteria in the gut
In the second part of the exhibition, the focus in on tiny organisms without which digestion would not be possible: the bacteria. Together with viruses, yeasts and fungi they form the microbiome, better known as the intestinal flora. They don’t just process food. They also communicate with the brain as well as the immune and nervous systems and keep the body in a healthy balance. In a room that recreates the wall of the intestine, visitors are immersed into this unique microcosm.
Various gut bacteria introduce themselves on an interactive screen. They tell their stories and whether they play a good or evil role, or perhaps both, within the human body. The microbiome table reveals astonishing numbers: it is hard to imagine that there are more bacteria in just a single gram of excrement than there are people on earth. Visitors learn how the micro-organisms vary in size, color, shape and consistency with the help of hands-on models.
We owe thanks to people in science for much of what we know about the gut and its tiny inhabitants. Yet how do researchers acquire this knowledge? The different instruments and simplified research protocols are presented in an exhibition lab. Anyone who wants to can slip into the role of a research assistant in this part of the exhibition.
Of cleanliness and good bacteria
The gut and its microbiome still hold many secrets, but science does agree on one thing: our well-being, physical and mental, is largely dependent on a healthy gut. In the last part of the exhibition, visitors are thus given valuable tips for promoting a good balance of intestinal flora and how they are affected by certain foods. In a multimedia game, different foods are “purchased” and visitors learn how much fiber they contain. Fiber as found in whole grain products, fruit and vegetables strengthens and protects the microbiome. At another station, visitors receive practical tips on proper household cleaning. Excessive hygiene reduces the useful bacteria biodiversity that surrounds and protects us.
The microbiome of every single person is unique. Yet when does the microbiome develop in the body? How does it change and why? A film made specifically for the exhibition provides the answer. Another film looks at new medical research and shows how people can be helped whose microbiom has been badly damaged or weakened. Although there is a lot of research still to be done, it is clear that the bacteria in the gut have healing powers and that much could be possible in the future with their help.
Accompanying program for the entire family
What role do bacteria play in the gut for chronic diseases like Morbus Crohn or the development of cancer? This is the question at the heart of the research done by nutritional scientist Prof. Dr. Dirk Haller. At the Robert Mayer Lecture on February 15, 2022 at 7:30 p.m. Dr. Haller as a professor of Nutrition and Immunology at the Technical University Munich will talk about “We are not alone. How microbes in the gut influence our lives.”
In the course “A different snack!”, families are encouraged to add variety to their cooking and baking. The appropriate recipes are provided. Parents and their children bake fresh rolls made with flour they have ground together. They share a tasty and health meal of spreads made of legumes. The courses are designed for families with children aged six or older. There are currently three two-hour courses scheduled on February 4, March 26, and April 30, 2022.
School classes can also add to what they know about foods and digestion. experimenta has age-appropriate courses for every age group. In “Power for the Gut”, third and fourth graders learn what “whole grain” means. They grind flour from grains of wheat and obtain bran, roll flakes from oats and even bake their own bread with these ingredients. In experiments, children study what fiber does in the intestines. Middle and secondary school classes can conduct their own experiments in lab courses like “From Rock Salt to Table Salt”, “Digestion – The Journey of Food” or “Lactose Intolerance” and make thrilling discoveries.
Opening hours and prices
The special exhibition “Gut: The Inside Story of the Body’s Most Underrated Organ” can be seen at the experimenta science center in Heilbronn from December 4, 2021 until May 1, 2022. It is open Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., weekdays and holidays from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. The special exhibition is included in the price of general admission to experimenta but can also be purchased separately. A ticket for adults is € 7.00 and reduced admission is € 4.00.
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