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Please just step into my (mobile) office

Seeing it rolling down the highway, you might think you’re seeing the modern day Partridge Family or David Suzuki’s tour bus.

But this big and colourful vehicle is a more serious operation, “35,000 pounds of fun, in terms of getting research done,” said Peter Jones, director of the Richardson Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals at the University of Manitoba.

Indeed, the “mobile research unit” packs a lot of analytical punch on its automotive frame.

When it visits a location to examine people’s health status, it can put them through a full bone and body fat scanner, put them on an exercise and oxygen machine, test them with a phlebotomy station and quiz them about their lifestyle and habits.

“It only has three seat belts,” said Jones.

“We do interviews in the front.”

The bus is the centrepiece of a wide study that the centre is doing on how lifestyle, genetics and other factors affect people’s health. It has been visiting cities, towns and Hutterite colonies.

Researchers have been looking at the good and bad bacteria in people’s intestines, for which the bus’s potty unit is employed.

Being mobile demands a lot of compact technology, such as four air conditioning units and two 10,000 watt generators.

The centre obtained the school-style bus for $1 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which had been using it for its own specialized purposes but no longer had a use for it.

However, it has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into transforming it into a rolling human research lab.

The Richardson Centre specializes in doing live human testing of functional food and nutraceuticals, running many tests on how diet affects the health of human subjects.

The bus allows it to move beyond its bricks and mortar facility in Winnipeg.

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