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Infant gut microbiota linked with gestation duration, delivery method and healthy weight gain

Published: 4 February 2015

Researchers in Singapore and the UK, as part of the EpiGen consortium, worked together with scientists at the Nestl? Research Center, Switzerland, on a new study into the bacterial makeup of the gut (gut microbiota) of infants in Singapore.

Mother and baby

Their study, published in mBio - the online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology - reveals that the rate of bacterial colonisation of the gut is influenced by external factors, such as the method of delivery and duration of gestation. The study also found that infants with a mature gut bacteria profile at an early age had normal levels of body fat at the age of 18 months, while infants with less mature gut bacteria profiles tended to have lower levels of body fat at the age of 18 months, indicating that gut bacteria could be related to normal development and healthy weight gain.

Bacteria in the human gut may influence many aspects of our health; however, it is not fully known what determines the composition of the gut microbiota. Rapid bacterial colonisation of the infant gut could be influenced by the environment of the baby before birth, and microbiota content has been associated with the development of obesity and insulin resistance.

Led by scientists at A*STAR’s Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences (SICS), in collaboration with researchers from KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, the National University Health System (NUHS), the University of Southampton and Nestlé Research Center, the study on the Growing Up in Singapore Towards Healthy Outcomes (GUSTO) birth cohort revealed that infants who had a vaginal delivery and who were born at term but after a longer duration of gestation acquired a more mature gut microbiota at a faster rate. In contrast, infants who were delivered by Caesarean section and after a shorter duration of gestation had a delay in the development of their gut microbiota.

While the infants had varying rates of gut microbiota acquisition depending on their mode of delivery and duration of gestation, most of them had 'caught up' within six months of life, with no differences in gut microbiota detected at this time point. In this study, infants with a delay in microbial acquisition tended to have a lower adiposity (or fat) at age 18 months, while those with a more rapid microbial acquisition achieved a more normal adiposity by that age.

Dr Joanna Holbrook, Senior Principal Investigator at A*STAR’s SICS said: “Epidemiological data has linked what happens to us very early in life with our health later in life. The mechanisms for this are not yet known; how do our bodies remember our earliest experiences in a way that impacts health issues like our weight? This work suggests that one of the mechanisms for the transmission of early life experience to later life health is the seeding of our gut microbiota.”

Professor Keith Godfrey, a co-investigator on the study at the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit at the University of Southampton, UK, comments: “This study is an important example of how influences before and after birth have a lasting effect on the growth and development of the child. The findings will help our EpiGen global research consortium to design future interventions aimed at optimising early development, with benefits for lifelong health.”

Associate Professor Chong Yap Seng, Lead Principal Investigator, GUSTO, Associate Professor and Senior Consultant with the National University Health System (NUHS) and Executive Director of SICS, commented: “The incredible efforts put in by the many academic partners involved in GUSTO, as well as the wonderful cooperation of the GUSTO families, have allowed us an unprecedented opportunity to study the secrets of the developing gut microbiome, which we know is vital, right from birth in Singapore.”

This research is also supported by the Singapore National Research Foundation under its Translational and Clinical Research Flagship Programme and administered by the Singapore Ministry of Health’s National Medical Research Council.

The research findings described are published in mBio, under the title Dynamics of infant gut microbiota are influenced by delivery mode and gestational duration and are associated with subsequent adiposity.

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