The maturation of the microbiome during the first year of life

Dr. Jeffrey Gordon recently published a review article describing the importance of the proper development of the microbiome in the early stages of life.  One paper that certainly would have made it into the review if it was published in time is a new paper published last week out of Sweden and China that studied the developing microbiome of children over the course of their first year of life.

The team of scientists studied 98 women and their newborn babies. They sequenced the mother’s stool, the newborns stool, and again the child’s stool at 4 and 12 months. Throughout the study, because they used a technique called shotgun sequencing, they identified 4,000 new microbial genomes.

The infants in the study were breastfed for varying amounts of time with some never being breastfed at all. The researchers found that breastfeeding and the timeline of cessation of breastfeeding was critical to driving microbiome development. Many had previously hypothesized that it was the time at which solid foods were introduced was most important for microbiome development, however this study found that it was the time at which breastfeeding was stopped. Children that stopped breastfeeding earlier had microbiomes more similar to adults at 12 months while children who were breastfed for the duration of the study continued to have microbiomes dominated by Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus.

The scientists also found that the 15 babies born via C-section had different microbiomes than the other 83 babies studied.  The infants born via C-section had microbiomes that more closely resembled skin and mouth microbial communities while the babies born vaginally had microbiomes more closely resembling the bacteria in their mother’s stool.

We still don’t know exactly what a “healthy” microbiome looks like and which microbial profile is best for the child. This study provides a very solid experimental design to study the development of the microbiome and allows for the continued monitoring of these children’s microbial development over the course of their lives. 

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