Intestine with charm - on the trail of the exceptional organ

The bestseller "Gut with Charm" by Giulia and Jill Enders takes a blunt and humorous look at human digestion. On December 4, the special exhibition of the same name started at experimenta; it can be seen for the first time in Germany. Until May 01, 2022, the public can embark on a curious journey through the human body.

For health, the immune system and well-being, the intestine plays a very important role. With the variety of microorganisms that live here, each person's intestine is as unique as his or her fingerprint. Despite this, the organ received little attention for a long time. This has changed with the bestseller "Gut with Charm" by Giulia and Jill Enders, whose book has made an important contribution to changing the image of the gut from an underestimated to an exceptional organ.

An underestimated organ comes into focus

At the exhibition "Gut with Charm. The curious world in the gut," visitors learn more about the long-neglected organ. The sisters Giulia and Jill Enders were directly involved in the conception. While the textual accompaniment comes from the pen of Giulia Enders, the drawings by Jill Enders - as already in the book - take on the main creative role. The result is an educational as well as entertaining journey through the inner workings of the human being along the question of what happens as soon as food enters the body. "Good science communication is free of fear or shame. That was always important to us - also when accompanying the exhibition," Giulia Enders describes her intention. "Seeing the book come to life in the Science Center, becoming touchable and three-dimensional, was very appealing to us," adds Jill Enders.

The exhibition is divided into three sections: The first part is a Tour through the digestionThe first part of the course presents the digestive organs and their functions - from the mouth to the anus. The second part focuses on the World of microbesThe third major topic area is microbiology, i.e. the totality of all microorganisms in the intestine. The third major topic area is the Wellbeing of the intestine and shows ways to preserve the personal microbiome, also known as gut flora, and improve daily eating habits.

On an area of around 750 square meters, numerous hands-on stations alternate with films; real organs can be seen as well as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) images. The exhibition was developed by the Cité des sciences et de l'industrie in Paris in cooperation with the Finnish Science Center Heureka and the Pavilhão do Conhecimento - Ciência Viva technology and science museum in Lisbon.

Into the digestive tract!

At the entrance to the exhibition, a giant mouth "swallows" the audience, which from here embarks on a voyage of discovery through the digestive tract. Where exactly does the esophagus run, where are the stomach, large intestine and small intestine located in the abdomen? With the help of two headless silhouettes, both adults and children can see where the organs are located. Two films taken with MRI and by X-ray provide fascinating real-time insights into the digestive process. A true miracle elixir is hidden in an old apothecary's cabinet: saliva. Humans produce one liter of spit per day. Saliva not only plays an important role in food intake and digestion. In "Intestines with Charm," young and old learn about its other superpowers and the reason why it's easier to burp when you're lying on your left side.

Direct experience plays an important role in the exhibition: On an interactive wall, visitors can trigger a food allergy or observe what happens in the mouth and intestines - from chewing to excretion - when feeding a figure. To marvel at is a rope that depicts the large and small intestines in their complete length and makes their dimensions visible when they are unrolled. Finally, in the toilet, everything is a question of posture. You can find out what the ideal position is by sitting in the toilet cubicle. Without shame, but with a lot of charm and in the usual humorous tone of the Enders sisters, the exhibition explains the mechanism of the sphincter muscles. The different forms of defecation are not concealed either. After all, shape, color and consistency provide a lot of useful information about our digestion and possible diseases.

Small but mighty: bacteria in the gut

The second part of the exhibition focuses on tiny creatures without which digestion would not be possible: bacteria. Together with viruses, yeasts and fungi, they form the microbiome, better known as the intestinal flora. This not only processes food, but also communicates with the brain as well as the immune and nervous systems and ensures a healthy balance in the body. In a room modeled on the intestinal wall, the audience is immersed in this unique microcosm.

Different intestinal bacteria introduce themselves on an interactive screen. They tell their story and whether they take on a good or evil role - or even both - in the human body. The microbiome table invites visitors to learn amazing numbers: It's hard to imagine that there are more bacteria in just a single gram of excrement than there are people living on Earth. Visitors can learn how different microorganisms are in terms of size, color, shape and composition with the help of hands-on models.

Much of what is known about the intestine and its tiny inhabitants is thanks to science. But how do researchers arrive at their findings? Various instruments and simplified research protocols are presented in an exhibition laboratory. Anyone who wants to can slip into the role of researcher themselves in the exhibition section.

Of cleanliness and good bacteria

Although the intestine and its microbiome still hold many secrets, science agrees on one thing: well-being, both physical and psychological, is strongly dependent on a healthy intestine. In the last part of the exhibition, visitors are therefore given valuable tips on how to keep their intestinal flora in balance and how to maintain it by eating certain foods. In a multimedia game, visitors can "shop" for various foods and find out how much dietary fiber they contain. Fiber, as found in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, strengthens and protects the microbiome. At another station, the audience will get practical advice on how to clean wisely. After all, excessive hygiene reduces the beneficial bacterial biodiversity that surrounds and protects us everywhere.

Each person's microbiome is unique. But when does the microbiome develop in the body? How does it change and why? A film made especially for the exhibition provides information. Another film looks at new medical research and shows how people can be helped whose microbiome is severely damaged or weakened. Even though a lot of research is still needed here, it becomes clear what healing powers the bacteria in the gut have and what could be possible in the future with their help.

What role do bacteria in the intestine play in chronic diseases such as Crohn's disease or the development of cancer? Nutritionist Prof. Dr. Dirk Haller is investigating this question in his research. At the Robert Mayer Lecture on February 15, 2022 at 7:30 p.m., the professor of nutrition and immunology at the Technical University of Munich will speak about "We are not alone. How microbes in the gut influence our lives".

Opening hours and prices

The special exhibition "Intestines with Charm" can be seen at the Science Center experimenta in Heilbronn from December 4, 2021 to May 1, 2022. It is open Mondays to Fridays from 9:00 to 17:00, and on weekends and public holidays from 10:00 to 18:00. The special exhibition is included in the experimenta admission price, but can also be booked individually. In that case, a ticket costs 7.00 euros for adults and 4.00 euros for concessions.