Placenta Microbiome revealed!

June 27th, 2014 - Shortlink:

At first glance, one might think the human body only consists of human cells, but in reality for each human cell in the human body , there are more than 10 bacteria. How our bodies interact with our microbiome (the sum of all the bacteria and other microorganisms in our body)  In the last ten years, microbiome studies have become more popular, because interactions with the microbiome have been shown to have a influence in a variety of diseases as well as aging!.  These studies of the microbiome are something we want to study in the future at ISP!  Recently, researchers have discovered a small community of bacteria living in a most unlikely place: the placenta, the organ that nourishes a developing fetus through the umbilical cord. The finding overturns the conventional wisdom that the placenta is sterile adding a new layer of intrigue. The study also suggests that these microbes may come from the mouth, affirming that good oral hygiene may be important for a healthy pregnancy.  The results of this paper titled The Placenta Harbors a Unique Microbiome by Kjersti Aagaard et al.

The placenta is a pancake-shaped mass of tissue on the side of the uterus that provides oxygen, food, and waste removal for the fetus. The placenta is what makes us humans a placental mammal.  The placenta is made up of both fetal and maternal cells and now includes a microbiome as well!  Researchers have realized that a baby has a community of bacteria in its gut when it is born and these bacteria don’t match those in the vagina, suggesting some other source, which was discovered to be the placenta, and originally assumed to be sterile. .  This shows no body part in the humans  is sterile, and microbiomes affect our lives, even before we are born!

Surprisingly, the mix of bacteria in the placenta comes from an unexpected place.  The DNA studies of the placental microbiome looked more like the microbiome in an adult human’s mouth than the vaginal, skin, gut, or other body microbiomes. The researchers think the microbes may get to the placenta from the mother’s mouth through her bloodstream, perhaps when she brushes her teeth and dislodges them into the blood. That possibility is intriguing, because there’s a well-known correlation between gum disease and preterm birth. Indeed, the array of bacteria in the placenta differed in women who gave birth early, before 37 weeks.  Therefore it might be doubly important to practice good hygiene when pregnant!  However, the authors caution that it’s too soon to say exactly how the placental microbiome got there and what it’s doing. Either way it’s offers an intriguing study that promises a whole new avenue of research.  If you are interested in having a better understanding of the microbiome and microbes in general, please sign up for our ISP microbiology class!

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