Uncle Sam wants YOU, but this time it's the US Army Institute of Environmental Medicine looking to improve its Meals, Ready to Eat (MREs)—not to tweak the taste, but rather to improve its impact on gut health. And they're willing to pay the 60 or so participants they find, who must be 18 to 62 and generally healthy, $200 for their suffering, the US Army reports. They'll ultimately allow half the volunteers to eat their normal diet for a month as part of the control group, while the other half will consume nothing but water, black coffee, and MREs for three weeks (that's right, no alcohol) and resume their normal diet for the final week. Participants will need to live close enough to the lab in Natick, Mass., to visit multiple times and provide blood, urine, and fecal samples.
"There's a lot of interesting and new research looking at gut bacteria, and how those gut bacteria interact with the human body," study head Dr. J. Philip Karl tells the Army Times. "We think we can manipulate the bacteria in a way that help the bacteria fight foreign pathogens—things that could cause food-borne illness, for example." MREs must already meet several requirements, including being able to withstand dropping 1,250 feet from parachutes and surviving 3.5 years stored at 80 degrees Fahrenheit, reports CNN. And while the troops won't necessarily detect any changes made to MREs, the adjustments could "effectively weaponize the rations for use against other digestive threats," the Times notes. To entice volunteers, Army dietitians have crafted a recipe book for creating such culinary thrillers as "Bunker Hill Burritos" and "Fort Bliss-ful Pudding Cake." (The Army tried a weird MRE tweak with caffeine a few years ago.)