CLOSE
Original image
iStock

Scientists Track Microbe Transmission from Mother to Infant

Original image
iStock

There's strong evidence that babies inherit their gut microbiomes from their mothers, but it's been unclear if the microbiome transmission takes place in the womb, at birth, or after birth; there are likely multiple paths of transmission unfolding over time. Microbial diversity is crucial to building up many functions, including the immune system, digestion, and even combating complex diseases. Recent research has found a connection between our gut microbiomes and our mental health as well.

However, studying the direct transmission of these microbes and identifying the strains of bacteria has been difficult until recently. Now researchers at the Centre for Integrative Biology at the University of Trento (UoT), Italy, have developed methods to track this microbial “vertical transmission,” as it’s called, and made some new discoveries in their methodological study, published in mSystems, an open access journal from the American Society for Microbiology.

“We know the infant increases [its] microbial diversity after birth and will continue doing so until being an adult,” senior study author Nicola Segata, an assistant professor at UoT, tells mental_floss. “We needed to understand from where microbes are coming in the first place.”

Many microbes are likely transmitted from mother to infant at birth and just after birth through direct contact with the birth canal, the skin, and through breast milk, but they had not yet done thorough investigations of the strains of bacteria to corroborate this. This is also important in the case of identifying the transmission of microbes that are dangerous to the infant’s health, such as Group B Streptococcus, which can cause an infection, and even death, in infants.

Segata explains, “Our contribution is really tracking which bacteria are moving from mother to infant. It was already known that certain microbes were present in the mother and infant but each had a different strain of, say, E. coli or Bifidobacterium. We looked to see if mothers and infants had the same strain of E. coli, or if it was a different strain from other infants and mothers.”

Taking fecal and breast milk samples from five mother-infant pairs when the infants were 3 months, 10 months, and, for one pair, at 16 months of age, Segata and his team used a technique called shotgun metagenomic sequencing of 24 microbiome samples of either fecal or breastmilk samples to determine which microbes were present. (This technique makes it possible to sample genes from all organisms in a sample.) Then they used another method known as metatranscriptomics to study RNA in fecal samples to identify active microbes.

“Each mother and infant pair had different strains of bacteria, but when you match each mother and her infant, they have the same strain, so this is strong evidence of the strain coming from the mother,” Segata says.

Another important discovery, Segata says, is that “these strains acquired from the mother are also active in the infant gut, they are alive. It’s important that the strains moving from mother to infant are active, colonizing.”

While this study allowed them to say confidently, “We can track microbe transmission from mother to infant,” Segata says their next study will allow them to identify which microbes, and whether they will survive in the infant gut.

Original image
Gary Stone/Getty Images
arrow
History
The Doctor Who Modernized Royal Births—in the 1970s
Original image
Gary Stone/Getty Images

When Prince William eventually ascends to the English throne, he’ll be the first British monarch ever born in a hospital. And he has a man named George Pinker to thank for that.

Royal births have always been fraught affairs due to the thorny issues of birthright and succession. Throughout history, English royal women were expected to give birth in rooms filled with spectators and witnesses—in part to avoid a pretender to the throne being switched with the royal baby at birth.

That made childbirth a grueling ceremony for queens, many of whom had to give birth to stillborn or dying children in the company of scores of strangers. In 1688, after 11 tragic attempts to produce an heir to James II’s throne, Mary of Modena gave birth in front of an audience of 67 people. (It was even worse for Marie Antoinette, who gave birth in 1778 in front of so many people the onlookers nearly crushed her.) And even after births became more private affairs, archbishops and officials attended them as late as 1936.

Of course, doctors have long been part of that crowd. The royal household—the group of support staff that helps royals at their various residences—has included physicians for hundreds of years, who have often been called upon to perform various gynecological duties for royal women. They have frequently been dispatched to serve other family members, too, especially those giving birth to important heirs.

Even when hospitals became popular places for childbirth at the turn of the last century, English royals continued having kids at home in their palaces, castles, and houses. Elizabeth II was delivered via Caesarean section in 1926 at her grandmother’s house in London. When she became queen, her royal surgeon gynecologists recommended she deliver her children at home, bringing in equipment to turn the space into a maternity ward.

Yet it was one of her gynecologists, John Peel, who ended up changing his tune on delivering children in hospitals, and in the 1970s he published an influential report that recommended all women do so. When he stepped down in 1973, the queen’s new royal gynecologist, George Pinker, insisted the royals get in line, too.

Pinker was different from his predecessors. For one, he skipped out on a potential career in opera to practice medicine. He had been offered a contract with an opera company, but when asked to choose between music and medicine, the choice was clear. Instead, he stayed involved with music—becoming assistant concert director at the Reading Symphony Orchestra and vice president of the London Choral Society—while maintaining his medical career.

He was also the youngest doctor ever to practice as royal surgeon gynecologist—just 48 when he was appointed. He supported controversial medical advances like in vitro fertilization. And he insisted that his patients’ welfare—not tradition—dictate royal births.

“It is very important for mothers to accept modern medical assistance and not to feel guilty if they need epidural or a Caesarean,” he told an interviewer. Pinker recommended that pregnant women lead as normal a life as possible—no easy task for royals whose every move was spied on and picked apart by the public. In fact, the doctor being anywhere near the queen or her family, even when he was not there to treat a pregnant woman, was seen as a sign that a royal was pregnant.

When Princess Diana delivered her first son, it was at a royal room in a hospital. “Most people marveled at the decision to have the royal baby in such surroundings rather than Buckingham Palace,” wrote The Guardian’s Penny Chorlton. Turns out the surroundings were pretty plush anyway: Diana delivered in her very own wing of the hospital.

Pinker served as the queen’s royal gynecologist for 17 years, delivering nine royal babies in all, including Prince William and Prince Harry. All were born at hospitals. So were William’s two children—under supervision of the royal gynecologist, of course.

Original image
iStock
arrow
video
What the First Year of Life Looks Like Through the Eyes of a Baby
Original image
iStock

A baby's vision undergoes a series of significant developments during its first year of life, and these developments have been visually replicated, month by month, in a recent video from Tech Insider.

The unfortunate news for any parent who has ever felt like their newborn was gazing into their eyes: Until the third month, babies can't actually identify facial features, which include eyes and mouths. Also, they can't focus their eyes on any subject more than 10 inches from their face for the first three months.

At the 6-month mark, babies are finally able to construct a 3D view of the world—something that later comes in handy at 9 months, when their eye-hand coordination is finally developed enough to grab hold of objects.

Though humans' eyes aren't fully developed until age 2, babies do have a leg up on adults in one area: A 2016 study found that babies between the ages of 3 and 4 months old can see slight differences in images caused by changes in illumination, while adults cannot.

Watch the video from Tech Insider below:

[h/t: Tech Insider]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios