The Hungry Microbiome

We've created a fascinating biomedical animation, The Hungry Microbiome, to bring to life years of scientific research and educate the public on how starch gets broken down in the gut.

The Challenge

Explaining complex biomedical science

It’s often hard to understand what’s happening inside our body, because the processes and phenomena that influence it and impact our health can't be seen by the naked eye.

This is a challenge for health professionals, educators and scientists seeking to communicate complex biomedical processes impacting on people’s lives.

Finding accessible and engaging ways to explain important health science is crucial for informing the community and creating behaviour change.

Our Response

Bringing science to life

The Hungry Microbiome: Why resistant starch is good for you

Show transcript

[Image changes to show three jars of plant derived foods]

[Image changes to show an animated picture of lots of cells]

Narrator: We know that many plant foods benefit our health. Scientists now believe one reason for this lies with the gut Microbiome - the bacteria in your intestines.

[Text appears: The Hungry Microbiome]

[Image changes to show a serve of mixed beans on a plate dressed with some herbs]

Your microbiome is nourished by meals like this, rich in one type of dietary fibre, called resistant starch.

[Image changes to show a child taking a spoon of beans from the plate and eating them]

Resistant starch can't be digested by your body, but instead becomes food for your gut bacteria.

[Image changes to show an animation of the digestion process as described below]

Most starch is easily digested. Starch is dissolved in the small intestine and then absorbed by your body, providing you with energy and nutrients. The remaining, non-digestible portion is called resistant starch. The resistant starch continues its journey through your gut and arrives at the large Intestine.

[Image changes to show an animation of the resistant starch reaching the large intestine, with text: Large Intestine]

We see that the resistant starch has become exposed to the healthy bacteria of the gut microbiome.

[Camera zooms in on an animated piece of resistant starch, represented by a white dot, with bacteria on it, represented by small green dots]

This species of bacteria specialize in breaking down resistant starch. This breakdown process provides the bacteria with the fuel they need to survive. As they use the starch for energy, they release small carbohydrate molecules.

[Image changes to show an animation of the carbohydrate molecules being released as described above]

The neighbouring bacteria feed on these carbohydrates.

[Image changes to show an animation of the carbohydrate molecules and bacteria coming together]

As he bacteria feed, they excrete even smaller molecules as waste. One of the final waste products is called butyrate, an energy source for your body.

[Image changes to show an animation of the butyrate being absorbed in to the large intestine]

As the butyrate builds up, it is absorbed by the large intestine. The presence of butyrate encourages blood to flow into the vessels of the large intestine, keeping the tissue healthy. If your diet includes enough resistant starch, these cells will use butyrate as their main source of energy.

[Image changes to show an animation of an intestinal cell being covered in special proteins as described below]

Here, we can see the molecular surface of one of the intestinal cells. The surface is covered in special proteins that actively pump butyrate molecules into the cell. Once inside, they can be harvested for energy. In addition, butyrate has other benefits.

[Image changes to show an animation of a damaged intestinal cell]

Intestinal cells are sensitive to DNA damage, caused by environmental factors. This cell's DNA has been damaged, resulting in a mutation. More damage could accumulate over time as the cell divides, which could lead to colorectal cancer. But, a steady supply of butyrate allows the damage to be more easily detected, and, the cell can activate a suicide program in response. Because the damaged cell destroys itself, it can't progress to form a cancer.

[Image changes to show examples of plant derived foods, including lentils, beans, fruit and herbs]

A starved microbiome is unable to protect you from cancer. By eating foods rich in resistant starch, you can nourish your microbiome and improve your health!

[Text appears: To learn more: www.csiro.au/hungrymicrobiome]

[Credits: An Animation by Chris Hammang. Producers, Sean O'Donoghue and Kate Patterson. Scientific Consultation, David Topping, Trevor Lockett and Julie Clarke. Music and Mixing, Richard Tamplenizza. Sound Design, Tara Webb. Additional Recording, Kenneth Sabir. Art and Technical Direction, Drew Berry, Christian Stolte. Sponsors logos appear to the right of screen An Australian Government Initiative, Inspiring Australia and CSIRO with text: Funding provided by. www.csiro.au/hungrymicrobiome]

[Screen changes and credits continue: Additional Thanks, Lidija Bosnjak, Kim Fung, Arwen Cross, Armando Faigl, Richard Le Leu, Marie Attard, Campbell Barton, Guy Abel, Claus Christopherson, Xhaoying Liu, Leah Cosgrove, Damien Belobradjdik, Peter Molloy, Julian Heinrich, Michael Conlon, Carly Rosewarne, Carrie Bengston, Tomasz Bednarz, Garvan Institute, Walter & Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, blender™ and elefant TRAKS. www.csiro.au/hungrymicrobiome]

[Screen changes and credits continue: VIZBI plus Visualising the Future of Biomedicine. Sponsors logos, An Australian Government Initiative and Inspiring Australia, appear under text. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. www.csiro.au/hungrymicrobiome]

[Music plays, CSIRO logo appears with text: Big ideas start here www.csiro.au]

Hide transcript

Through the VizbiPlus project, we’re training scientists to create scientifically accurate 3D animations to explain the latest biomedical research.

One of the first animations created through the project, The Hungry Microbiome, takes you on a journey through the intestinal tract to show how starch gets broken down in the gut.

It brings to life years of CSIRO research, accurately describing a very complex process and showing what happens in our bodies at the micro scale.

The Hungry Microbiome was created by our biomedical animator Christopher Hammang and was published in 2014.

The Results

Engaging the community

The Hungry Microbiome is setting new standards for communicating biological science to the world.

Bringing complex biomedical processes to life. © CSIRO, Christopher Hammang

Videos like this are allowing researchers to communicate very complex advances in medicine in a way that’s engaging and accessible to a wide general audience.

For example, soon after its release The Hungry Microbiome featured on ABC television's Catalyst program as part of a documentary on gut bacteria.

VizbiPlus is a joint initiative between CSIRO, the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and is funded by the Inspiring Australia government initiative.

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