PerspectiveMicrobiota

Mother's littlest helpers

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Science  26 Jun 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6242, pp. 1427-1428
DOI: 10.1126/science.aac7436

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Summary

Commensal bacteria underlie, in part, our nutritional status, immune function, and psychological well-being. The trillions of beneficial microbes within our intestinal tract convert dietary nutrients, inhibit pathogen colonization, regulate immune processes, and produce neural signals (1, 2). Advances in our understanding of the importance of microbes have motivated the commercial development of products intended to boost “good” commensals and confer health benefits. Probiotic dietary supplements contain live beneficial microbes hoped to subsequently colonize the gut. Prebiotic nutrients are thought to enhance good gastrointestinal microflora by preferentially nourishing beneficial microbes. Even “psychobiotics” are being explored to ameliorate symptoms of psychiatric illness. These live organisms influence the brain through metabolites and neuroactive compounds in rodent models and preliminary human studies (3). How to most effectively be the landscape architects of our microbial community, however, often remains unclear. An opportunity to gain insights into how natural selection has shaped the coevolution of hosts and microbes can be found in mammalian mother-infant dyads, as our microbiota are ecologically engineered by mothers and breastmilk. Such insights can be leveraged to improve clinical management and nutritional technologies, enhancing human health not just in infancy, but across the life course (4, 5).