Breastmilk contains many prebiotics to support the growth of beneficial bacteria in the infant’s gut.  It also contains bacteria that seed the infant’s gut.  Previous research has shown that the bacteria in breast milk do indeed take hold and colonize the gut, and so it is imperative to infant microbiome development.  An article published last week sought to discover if the breastmilk microbiome changes depending on mode of delivery, especially since we have seen that C-section infant’s have much different microbiomes than their vaginally delivered counterparts.  The scientists published their results in the journal Microbiome.

The scientists tested the breastmilk of 39 Canadian women.  Despite various backgrounds, each woman’s milk was dominated by Staphylococcus, Enterobacteriaceae, and Pseudomonas.  Moreover, there were not major differences in the breast milk microbiomes between modes of delivery, showing that it is not effected by C-section of vaginal birth.  In addition, the gender of the baby did not change the microbiome either.  Interestingly, the microbiomes were very different between mothers, meaning that babies are being exposed to highly diverse bacteria from milk.  In one case 80% of the bacteria were staphylococci, and in another case more than 50% was Pseudomonas.

There is little evidence that shows how differences in breast milk microbiomes are affecting children.  That said, we know the microbiome is critical to immune system development, and therefore it reasons that these differences may be important.  In any event, it is useful to see that mode of delivery itself is unlikely to change the breastmilk microbiome.

Please email for any comments, news, or ideas for new blog posts.

The views expressed in the blog are solely those of the author of the blog and not necessarily the American Microbiome Institute or any of our scientists, sponsors, donors, or affiliates.

Fecal microbiota transplant as a treatment for MRSA enterocolitis

Fecal microbiota transplants (FMTs) are most commonly used for treating Clostridium difficile infection, an often lethal bacterial infection of the gut. However, there have been many hypotheses that FMTs could be used to treat other conditions that result in a dysbiosis of the microbiota. A new study published in BMC Infectious Diseases suggests that FMTs could be used to treat enterocolitis, infection of the gut, that is a result of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

The most common treatment for this to date has been antibiotic treatment, specifically vanomycin, but the results of how this impacted the microbiota were not measured. In this new study, 5 patients with enterocolitis as a result of MRSA were given FMTs, the infusion of fecal preparation into the GI tract of the patient from a healthy donor. After administration of the FMT, all 5 patients were cured of the MRSA enterocolitis showing no symptoms. MRSA in the feces was also eliminated after FMT.

They also measured the microbiome of patients undergoing the treatment. They found that prior to treatment, patients with MRSA enterocolitis had decreased numbers of species in the gut and S. aureus reached almost half of all intestinal flora.  After the FMT, the microbiome of the recipient trended closer to the microbiome of the donor and alleviated symptoms. 

While there remain concerns with the use of FMTs, there are certain instances where there are few options for treatment and the administration of a new microbiome from a donor fecal sample remain the most promising. While this was only a study of 5 patients at one hospital in Singapore, the investigators suggest FMT as a first-line measure treatment for enterocolitis resulting from MRSA. 

Please email for any comments, news, or ideas for new blog posts.

The views expressed in the blog are solely those of the author of the blog and not necessarily the American Microbiome Institute or any of our scientists, sponsors, donors, or affiliates.

What bacteria live in the gym?

A lot of research goes into understanding the complexity and dynamics of the human microbiome in the GI tract or the mouth, to name a few locations. In an article published by Microbiome, researchers at Northwestern University took a different perspective in that they looked at how the human microbiome affects the environments around us. A very interesting point raised by the article is that Americans spend most of their time in so-called “built environments,” which are indoors. The microbes of these indoor environments are mainly affected by the humans that interact with them, so the scientists at Northwestern University took to studying how the bacterial composition of indoor athletic equipment and facilities are affected. This specific environment was chosen mainly because of the numerous different human encounters it experiences.

For 2 days, the researchers collected swab samples in 3 athletic facilities. Samples were collected every 2 hours from the floor, mats, elliptical handles, free weights, and benches from 8 am to 6 pm, and a total of 356 samples were collected.  After sequencing and analysis, the researchers concluded that, consistent with all three facilities, the bacteria found on the equipment was most likely to be from the human skin, with Pseudomonas and Acinetobacter showing up in the most samples. Besides microbiota from the skin, other bacteria were found to be abundant such as Bacteroides from the human intestinal tract on elliptical handles and Finegoldia, also from the GI tract, on benches.

As for which sampled location had the most stable bacterial community, it was found that the floor and mats showed the least change in structure. This is most likely because elliptical handles, free weights, and benches come in more direct contact with human skin. Across the board, the only genera which were found in all samples from every surface type were Staphylococcus and Pseudomonas. It is important to remember that none of this means athletic facilities are blooming with harmful bacteria, and we should stay far away. In fact, the environment is not very conducive to the thriving of bacteria, because it lacks a lot of resources. What we should take away from this study is that any surface that comes in contact with human skin is likely to reflect the microbiome of that person. 

Please email for any comments, news, or ideas for new blog posts.

The views expressed in the blog are solely those of the author of the blog and not necessarily the American Microbiome Institute or any of our scientists, sponsors, donors, or affiliates.

Study suggests penile microbiome can transmit bacterial vaginosis by sexual intercourse

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a microbiome-based disease characterized by a lack of Lactobacillus in the vagina.  We have covered this disease with multiple blog posts and encourage any interested readers to search for these blogs to learn more.  One outstanding question regarding BV is how sexual intercourse affects the disease.  One prevailing thought is that the penis can actually be colonized by BV-associated bacteria, and that through sexual intercourse it can be spread between partners.  A new paper published last week in mBio suggests this is true.

The researchers measured the penile microbiomes of 165 uncircumcised, black men from Uganda, as well as diagnosing BV status in their female partners.  The BV status was measured by Nugent score, which is a bacterial staining technique that basically measures the amount of anaerobic bacteria in the vagina (non-Lactobacilli).  The stain produces a score between 1-7 with 1 being healthiest and 7 being least healthy (mostly anaerobic bacteria).  After measuring the penile microbiomes, the scientists were able to be categorize them into 7 different community state types (CST1-7).  These community state types varied from 1 to 7 in terms of both overall abundance and composition, with CST1 having the lowest density of bacteria and the lowest diversity while CST7 had the highest density and the highest diversity of bacteria.

The scientists compared the female partner’s BV status with the men’s community state type, and noted that having a CST1-7 on the penile microbiome corresponded with a higher likelihood of the female partner being diagnosed with BV.  Two genera of bacteria, Corynebacterium and Staphylococcus, on the penile microbiome were associated with healthy vaginal flora, whereas Dialister, Mobiluncus, Prevotella, and Porphyromonas were associated with BV.  Interestingly penises that included Lactobacillus and Gardnerella, genera associated with healthy vaginas and BV vaginas, respectively, were not statistically associated with BV status.  Overall, men with CST4-7 were significantly more likely to have a sexual partner with BV, and had more BV associated bacteria colonizing their penises.  In addition, men with more than one sexual partner were more likely to have CST4-7, and again, their partners more likely to have BV.

It appears that men’s penises, especially uncircumcised ones, can be vectors for bacterial transmission.  This simple fact should make us reconsider BV as an STD, and actually fits in well with another that has shown promiscuity is a risk for BV.  It is likely that circumcision and condom would decrease BV transmission rate, as they do other STDs, but until a paper comes out that studies this connection no one can say for sure.

Please email for any comments, news, or ideas for new blog posts.

The views expressed in the blog are solely those of the author of the blog and not necessarily the American Microbiome Institute or any of our scientists, sponsors, donors, or affiliates.

The nasal microbiome of infants may impact risk of developing asthma

Many lower respiratory illnesses have been shown to associate with specific lung, throat and nasal bacteria, but the role of the microbiome is still unclear, and mechanisms for the connection have yet to be proven.  Of particular interest is asthma, which affects around 7% of people in the US, and increases a person’s risk for many other conditions.  While it is normally diagnosed in toddlers, scientists believe that the groundwork for the disease is actually laid during infancy.  With that in mind, researchers in Australia performed the first longitudinal study of infants’ nasopharyngeal (nose and throat) during the first year of their lives, and tracked episodes of respiratory illness during that time.  They discovered a strong connection between the microbiome and respiratory illness, including asthma, and last month published their results in Cell Host and Microbe.

The researchers collected nasopharyngeal microbiome samples from 234 infants at different time points during their first year of life.  Most infants’ microbiomes were dominated by the following species: Moraxella catarrhalis, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Staphylococcus aureus, Haemophilus influenzae, and Alloiococcus otitidis.  Interestingly, this was true for infants regardless of birth delivery mode (i.e. cesarean or vaginal) as well as length of breast feeding.  In contrast, having a furry animal in the house tended to increase the abundance of Streptococcus, but having older siblings tended to decrease it.  In addition, there were strong seasonal effects on the microbiome, with Haemophilus being associated with the summer, and Moraxella the winter.  In children with respiratory illness, Haemophilus, Moraxella, and Streptococcus were most frequently measured, and Staphylococcus, Alloiococcus, and Corynebacterium least frequently measured.

When the scientists compared their results with the asthma outcomes of the children at 5 years old they noticed one significant trend.  Colonization by Streptococcus at around 2 months old, which was asymptomatic at the time and occurred in 14% of infants tested, was strongly connected to chronic wheezing (itself an indication of asthma) at 5 years old.  They suggest that the developing airways in infants may be especially vulnerable to Streptococcus.

This long term study does a really nice job of defining how the microbiome grows and develops in the airways of infants – something which previously hadn’t been performed at such a large scale.  While this study alone does not figure out exactly what the microbiome’s role is in childhood respiratory illnesses, it does provide a baseline for future studies to work off of.   

Please email for any comments, news, or ideas for new blog posts.

The views expressed in the blog are solely those of the author of the blog and not necessarily the American Microbiome Institute or any of our scientists, sponsors, donors, or affiliates.

New study suggests S. aureus and skin dysbioses cause eczema

Atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, is a skin inflammation and rash that has an enigmatic cause.  There are many genetic and environmental risk factors involved, but to date the exact triggers and mechanisms that cause this autoimmune response are unknown.  Importantly, a growing percentage of infants and toddlers are developing this disease, which itself is a known risk factor for other autoimmune diseases like asthma and allergies.  Discovering the cause of atopic dermatitis is an important endeavor, because it may lead to a cure for a number of other diseases.

Staphylococcus aureus has long been associated with atopic dermatitis.  It appears to occur at relatively high abundances in the areas of skin that are affected.  Then again, S. aureus is a one of the most common skin microbiome bacteria (it is ubiquitous around the world), and it has yet to be definitively connected to the disease.  In addition, mouse models for many skin diseases, including this one, do not exist or are insufficient, so controllably studying the atopic dermatitis is difficult.  Recently though, a team of scientists from Japan and the NIH developed a mouse model for atopic dermatitis, and made a new discovery that showed S. aureus can indeed drive skin inflammation.  They published their results in Cell immunity.

The scientists were studying how a specific genetic mutation in mice affected bones and hair follicles when they serendipitously realized that it was causing eczema in the mice after around three weeks.  When they investigated the skin microbiomes of these mice, as well as normal mice, they realized that right around the time that the eczema was appearing in the mice, these mice’s skin microbiomes drastically shifted.  First, a bacterium called Corynebacterium mastitidis emerged, followed by S. aureus a few weeks later, which was coincident with the presentation of the worst symptoms.  Of note, species of Corynebacteria are associated with eczema in humans, much like S. aureus.

Next, the researchers then performed a series of experiments by providing mice with antibiotics in an effort to combat the dysbiosis.  When newborn mice with the genetic modification were treated with antibiotics they never developed eczema at all.  Moreover, genetically modified mice that were in the midst of the rash that were treated with antibiotics had their eczema subside soon after.  In addition, genetically modified mice that were taken off of antibiotics had eczema emerge shortly thereafter.  Strikingly, in all of the above situations changes in the skin microbiome corresponded with the disease state: a lack of S. aureus and high diversity were associated with healthy skin, and the emergence of S. aureus and a lack of diversity were associated with the disease.  Finally, when S. aureus was inoculated onto the skin of genetically modified mice, they developed eczema rapidly.

The researchers performed a number of other experiments to try and tease out the mechanism by which S. aureus causes atopic dermatitis.  Their results show that it appears a combination of genetic and environmental factors that affect the skin may be important in defining an individual’s risk for the disease.  Regardless, it appears that S. aureus is a major culprit in causing eczema, so future therapies that eradicate the bacteria, or at least decrease its abundance should be considered.

Please email for any comments, news, or ideas for new blog posts.

The views expressed in the blog are solely those of the author of the blog and not necessarily the American Microbiome Institute or any of our scientists, sponsors, donors, or affiliates.