Different microorganisms, such as bacteria, yeasts and viruses, populate the human body. The collection of all these microorganisms in one environment is called the microbiome, and its development in infants has been the focus of a PhD student at Masaryk University, Eliška Pivrncová, who also used the nuclear magnetic resonance laboratory at the University of Cagliari, Italy, for her research. She was financially supported by the EDUC-SHARE project.
What exactly does your microbiome research cover?
I focus on the development of the microbiome during the first year of a child's life. Specifically, I try to describe what bacteria colonise us, what they do and what influence the infant's diet has on the dynamics of this process. We focus not only on the gut microbiome and its metabolic potential but also try to characterise the oral microbiome and the microbiome and metabolome, i.e. the substances involved in metabolic reactions, of breast milk. Breast milk is an essential component of a child's diet that can influence the development of the gut microbiome and beyond.
How do feeding practices affect a child's future development?
Breast milk intake plays a crucial role in the first months of a baby's life. The bioactive substances in breast milk support the growth of Bifidobacteria in the baby's intestine and thus help the proper development of the immune system. However, this is not the case for children who cannot be breastfed for various reasons. Their microbiome differs from that of breastfed children, and current knowledge shows that these changes are associated with an increased risk of certain diseases such as asthma, atopic dermatitis and diabetes.
How does the introduction of baby food and the inclusion of other foods interfere with this development?
The weaning process and the introduction of solid food bring completely new stimuli. From an immunological point of view, we can talk about the next step in the development of the immune system, which is thus exposed to new antigens, i.e. substances capable of triggering a defensive response in the body. The introduction of solids represents a range of nutrients that complement breast milk, but they are also a source of microorganisms that enrich and change the nature of the gut microbiome.
Is it even possible to define an ideal way of feeding and choosing food for the appropriate development of the child?
Experts, led by the World Health Organization, agree that breast milk is the best diet for a baby in the first 6 months of life. However, from the second half of the first year onwards, it is essential to gradually introduce different types of food to give the baby the necessary energy and nutrients for its harmonious development. What cannot yet be precisely defined is what the "ideal" gut microbiome looks like during the introduction of complementary foods and what foods should be preferred to balance it.
What would you like to verify in your research now, and what methods do you use?
In collaboration with the CeSAR facility in Cagliari, made possible by the EDUC-Share project, we analysed the metabolome of mothers' breast milk and their children's stool metabolome. With these analyses, we will better understand how breast milk's composition affects the child's gut microbiome. In the next phase, I would like to investigate the bacteria in breast milk more deeply. Specifically, I would be interested in the extent to which these bacteria colonise the baby's gut and their effect on the baby's metabolome. To this end, we can perform sequencing followed by the identification of bacterial species.
Which research infrastructures did you use in your research project?
The Microbiome Analysis Laboratories – RECETOX MU Research Infrastructure, where I prepared the libraries for sequencing, which subsequently took place on the MiSeq instrument at the Central Genomics Laboratory of CEITEC MU, the metabolome of stool and breast milk samples was determined in collaboration with the CeSAR Research Infrastructure at the University of Cagliari, and I actively participated in the analysis during my EDUC-Share internship. In the next phase, we will again use the RECETOX MU Research Infrastructure know-how to analyse the data obtained.
You are also going to Cagliari for a workshop in November. What will it be about?
The workshop perfectly complements the topic I am working on. The aim is to explore the composition of breast milk in more depth, from different perspectives. The workshop focuses on metabolomics and lipidomics in clinical practice and the impact of nutrition on the microbiome and the baby's health. The University of Cagliari will present different analytical tools for this research, allowing us to perform metabolomic analyses of milk and interpret the results. Therefore, I look forward to expanding my knowledge and establishing collaborations with other experts in the field.
Eliška Pivrncová holds a Master's degree in Nutrition from Stockholm University in Sweden. After a one-year internship at the Quadram Institute in England, she began to combine her knowledge of nutrition with microbiome research. Currently, Eliška is interested in child nutrition and microbiome development in early childhood. She is also working on this topic as part of her PhD studies at RECETOX, Faculty of Science, Masaryk University.