The goal wasn't to stock up for long hours in the lab, but rather to find an elusive, edible contrast agent to show doctors what's happening inside our bodies.

Turns out that a roasted version of the grain, when struck by a common laser beam, can illuminate the throat and the gastrointestinal track.

What's more, because many human diets already include barley, it could be fast-tracked for medical use.

Here you have this common grain -- it has been grown all over the world for thousands of years, and used to make tea, bread, beer -- and we're just now finding another use for it as a contrast agent for medical imaging," says Jun Xia, PhD, assistant professor in the University at Buffalo Department of Biomedical Engineering.

Xia and 10 other UB co-authors described the experiment and its results in a study published in May in the journal Biomaterials.

Swallowing disorders, also known as dysphagia, can be an indication of a serious medical problem.

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