It might be possible to remodel a baby's microbiome

But we still don’t really know what a healthy microbiome really is.

By Claire Maldarelli, Popular Science

The microbiome—the collection of bacteria and other microbes that reside in our bodies and on our skin—has huge potential. Over the past decade or so, we’ve found that our microbial makeup influences everything from acne to food allergies, obesity, and digestive diseases. But so far, there hasn’t been much research on exactly what strains of bacteria do what, and how much of an influence these microbes can have on us. Are they the determining factor in the development of some diseases, or just a minor player? Even if we figure all these things out, scientists still haven’t found a way to keep the bacteria alive in our guts without continuing to administer them in the form of a pill.

If we can figure these last few pieces out, we might be able to use certain bacteria in a therapeutic way. But we aren’t quite there yet. Most of the probiotics available in pharmacies and grocery stores aren’t really doing much for you. Aside from a select few, these supplements haven’t gone through the same types of clinical trials that prescription drugs must pass in order to prove their efficacy.

But in a study out this week in the journal mSphere, scientists showed that when they gave breastfeeding infants a certain strain of bacteria (commonly found in babies’ guts) for almost a month, those newborns were able to keep the bacteria strain alive for months afterward.

Baby microbiomes are extremely important. Our bacterial diversity is at its most vulnerable during this stage. The microbial colonies that take hold during our first few months and years set the tone for the rest of our lives. Certain factors—like a cesarean birth versus a vaginal delivery, antibiotic use, and formula versus breastfeeding—appear to throw this system out of whack, potentially putting individuals at a higher risk for certain diseases later in life... Read more on Popular Science