Studying babies’ brains by sampling the bacteria from their butts
Parents concerned about their infant’s future aptitude may soon be fretting over their diapers. There’s no special scent or consistency to be looking for, but scientists have found a correlation between the bacteria in babies’ poop and babies’ later performance on cognitive tests. The exact mechanism at work isn’t fully understood, but it suggests that the microorganisms that call our bodies, and especially our digestive tracts, home may somehow influence our brains.
A swath of one-year-olds had their diapers sampled and analyzed to see what microbes were living in their guts. It’s well established that our bodies are colonized by trillions of microbes, many of which are crucial to our health, helping us do everything from digest food to blocking out more harmful species of bacteria. We acquire these microbes starting at birth, and so it wasn’t surprising that one-year-olds’ microbiomes were starting to look similar to what you’d find in an adult.
Better with Bacteroides
When these babies turned two, they were then given a cognitive assessment that looked at a range of skills. These included motor control, perception and language development. The results were then compared against the bacteria that had been in these kids’ diapers the previous year to see if any particular batch of microbes matched up with higher test scores. While not a clear cause and effect, kids that had had more Bacteroides bacteria scored higher on these tests, suggesting that the microbes were somehow connected to cognitive development. Surprisingly, babies with more diverse microbiomes didn’t do as well on these tests, even though that has been previously linked to other health benefits like diabetes and asthma.
There’s no known mechanism that would allow for the bacteria to directly influence brain development at this point, but the correlation suggests this is worth looking into. Even if it turns out that the increase in Bacteroides is a side effect of something else that does directly help brains, understanding that relationship may someday prove beneficial. In the mean time, don’t worry about your baby’s poopy diapers any more than practicality already requires you to.
Source: In Baby’s Dirty Diapers, The Clues To Baby’s Brain Development, Scienmag