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Model Stomach Takes Digestion Outside the Body

Why food engineers, pharmaceutical companies, and organic farmers are lining up for the artificial organ

5 min read

Twenty years ago, after Bob Quinn began growing Khorasan wheat, an ancient and vanishing Egyptian grain with an oversized, banana-shaped kernel, he noticed something unusual. Not only could people who have trouble eating regular wheat digest Khorasan, but it actually made them feel better. Today, food from the grain, which the Montana farmer has branded Kamut, is sold in health stores around the world and is prescribed by some doctors as a treatment for wheat allergies. Yet, says Quinn, ”we don’t know how it’s really acting in the body to create these differences.”

Now, though, two scientists at the Institute for Food Research (IFR) in Norwich, England, might be able to offer some answers. Later this year, Martin Wickham and Richard Faulks plan to feed Quinn’s pasta to the world’s first and most sophisticated artificial stomach and compare the output to that from a meal of conventional pasta. Not only does the IFR’s ”model gut,” as it’s called, break down food with the proper quantities of enzymes and acids, it also mimics the physical motion—the mixing and shearing—that occurs inside the stomach. Besides clarifying our understanding of digestion, the invention may revolutionize the way processed foods are designed and how drugs are delivered. Since the machine began operating, in November 2006, some 10 to 15 companies have used it to test their products.

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Are You Ready for Workplace Brain Scanning?

Extracting and using brain data will make workers happier and more productive, backers say

11 min read
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A photo collage showing a man wearing a eeg headset while looking at a computer screen.
Nadia Radic
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Get ready: Neurotechnology is coming to the workplace. Neural sensors are now reliable and affordable enough to support commercial pilot projects that extract productivity-enhancing data from workers’ brains. These projects aren’t confined to specialized workplaces; they’re also happening in offices, factories, farms, and airports. The companies and people behind these neurotech devices are certain that they will improve our lives. But there are serious questions about whether work should be organized around certain functions of the brain, rather than the person as a whole.

To be clear, the kind of neurotech that’s currently available is nowhere close to reading minds. Sensors detect electrical activity across different areas of the brain, and the patterns in that activity can be broadly correlated with different feelings or physiological responses, such as stress, focus, or a reaction to external stimuli. These data can be exploited to make workers more efficient—and, proponents of the technology say, to make them happier. Two of the most interesting innovators in this field are the Israel-based startup InnerEye, which aims to give workers superhuman abilities, and Emotiv, a Silicon Valley neurotech company that’s bringing a brain-tracking wearable to office workers, including those working remotely.

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