‘MicrobeMom’ Research Provides Insights Into Maternal Gut Bacteria

A recent study by researchers at APC Microbiome Ireland, a world-leading SFI research centre based in University College Cork (UCC), and partners explores the intricate world of maternal-to-infant gut bacteria transmission.

The research, published in May’s edition of Nature Communications, is led by the team at APC Microbiome Ireland, in association with Teagasc, PrecisionBiotics Group, the UCD Perinatal Research Centre, University College Dublin, and the National Institute for Bioprocessing, Research & Training (NIBRT).

Known as the ‘MicrobeMom’ project, the €3.4 million research venture began in 2017 and is a joint research investment through the SFI Spokes programme by Science Foundation Ireland and leading Irish company PrecisionBiotics to study the probable methods of transferring Bifidobacteria strains from mothers to infants while also examining the influence of the mother’s diet and health on her gut bacteria.

The research not only sheds light on the fascinating interplay of factors influencing infant gut health but also looks at the potential for using probiotic supplements for maternal and child well-being and also reveals the impact of delivery mode and antibiotics exposure on the transfer of beneficial Bifidobacterium strains.

Among the key findings is the substantial influence of delivery mode. Vaginal births, especially those occurring spontaneously, exhibit greater microbe diversity and higher transfer rates of beneficial Bifidobacterium strains. In contrast, maternal exposure to antibiotics during labour significantly reduces the number of strains shared, underscoring the delicate balance at play.

The research shows Bifidobacterium, recognised for its probiotic properties, plays a crucial role in early infant gut health. Present in the early stages of an infant’s gut, these healthy bacteria offer an array of health benefits, from reducing allergies and asthma development to fortifying the immune system and aiding digestion. The discovery opens avenues for developing specific probiotic supplements that may improve microbial resistance, combat diseases, and support overall health.

Talking in an article about the release of the research on the UCC website, Principal Investigator at APC Microbiome Ireland, Professor Paul Cotter, commented:

“The low level of strain transfer detected in our initial study highlights that strain transfer can be used as a means of getting probiotic strains to the guts of infants through their administration to mothers. While the particular strain (Bifidobacterium breve 702258) did not transfer very efficiently, it did provide very valuable ‘proof of concept data’ prompting us further to explore the possibility of beneficial supplement intervention during pregnancy and transfer to the child.”

Professor Fionnuala McAuliffe, UCD Full Academic Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at National Maternity Hospital Dublin and Director of the UCD Perinatal Research Centre, and Professor Douwe van Sinderen, Principal Investigator at APC, also commented on the significance of the research and the benefits of collaboration between academia, medicine and industry in the UCC/APC Microbiome Ireland article that you can read in full here.