Suhail Akhtar, PhD, assistant professor of biochemistry at A.T. Still University-Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine (ATSU-KCOM), participated in research that is now receiving attention from the medical community.
Dr. Akhtar worked alongside a team of medical experts whose research discovered that mouse fetuses do not develop in a sterile in utero environment. Instead, they have their own gut microbiota, or bacteria living in the gut. These bacteria aid in metabolism and the development of the immune system. The gut bacteria were found to be transmitted from the mother to the fetus. Similar research by a different team has confirmed that the same is true for human fetuses and mothers.
“It has long been assumed that the human fetus develops in a sterile environment and gets colonized with bacteria only during or after birth,” said Dr. Akhtar. “However, identification of human-associated bacterial DNA in the amniotic fluid and infant meconium has challenged this assumption.”
The findings of these research studies could help determine new intervention strategies. During risky pregnancies, if a premature birth is anticipated, doctors could target maternal gut microbiota for modification to support the transfer of beneficial bacteria and suppress the transfer of pathogenic bacteria to the infant gut, boosting the fetal immune system and reducing the risk of early-life infection.