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No guts to RTE's science show

For reasons unexplained, the programme I'd intended writing about today, The Other Irish Travellers, was yanked from the BBC4 schedule.

Maybe the channel decided viewers were all Travellered out and might mistake a documentary about the fate of a wealthy Anglo-Irish family in de Valera's new, independent Ireland for something about big frocks, fake tan and over the top nuptials.

At any rate, its replacement turned out to be something of a blessing in disguise. Guts: The Strange and Mysterious World of the Human Stomach, was sparkling -- as well as gurgling, bubbling, groaning, hissing, fizzing, popping and churning.

As presenter/guinea pig Michael Mosley found out, our stomachs are far from sedate places; there's an awful lot going on in there, all the time. A scan of Mosley's own guts revealed a centre of frantic activity, as though his innards were having a gastric acid-house rave party but had decided not to invite along the rest of his body.

Mosley, well known for his series Inside the Human Body, decided to go one step further by swallowing a pill that contained a tiny camera, which can capture three flash images per second, and then following its progress on screen as it journeyed into his stomach and along his intestines to his bowels.

Oh, and he did it while lying on a bed in the middle of the British Science Museum, with a sizeable audience looking on. A few of them looked away, too, when the doctor in charge of the experiment decided to add a second camera, this time on the tip of a probe threaded through Mosley's nostril, all the way to his stomach.

The first thing it discovered was a blob of the porridge Mosley had had for breakfast. As he nibbled on some colourful vegetables and supped a little chicken noodle soup, the monitor lit up with a rainbow of colour.

It was even more spectacular when, nose-camera safely extracted, Mosley dug into a slap-up meal of steak and chips. Fully digesting food can take up to three days, yet it's amazing how quickly the stomach gets to work breaking it down.

As the strong muscles of Mosley's stomach wall rippled and undulated, what looked like a lava pool of gastric juices as strong as car-battery acid bubbled violently, dissolving his dinner into digestible mush.

The journey along the intestines is a long one, although not varied enough to fill an hour, so Mosley took a few diversions. The best of these was the story of how medicine was changed in the 1800s when a doctor called Beaumont discovered gastric juices.

Beaumont treated a man who'd been blasted in the stomach with a shotgun. The patient recovered but a tiny hole called a fistula remained open in his side, allowing Beaumont to investigate how his guts worked for the next 10 years.

Less engrossing was an up-close look at a gastric bypass operation on a 20-stone man called Bob, who seemed to have wandered in from Channel 4's Embarrassing Bodies. This was padding, most of it made up of Bob's pink stomach fat.

Meanwhile, back in Mosley's guts the camera-pill had reached his bowels, where the panorama changed from bright reds and pinks to autumnal yellows and browns. I don't think I need to draw you a picture.

I hadn't seen anything of The Science Squad over the past five weeks but last night's final episode didn't give the impression I'd missed much. Presented with Blue Peter-ish enthusiasm by Jonathan McCrea, Aoibhinn Ni Shuilleabhain and Kathriona Devereaux, it has the visual zippiness of a youth programme; for the most part, though, the stories the trio report on -- last night's topic was the advances in medical devices made possible by software -- were dreary.

A clunky hybrid of Tomorrow's World and Nationwide.



guts: the strange and mysterious world of the human stomach HHHII the science squad HIIII