National Geographic

Good Germs In the Womb: My New “Matter” Column in the New York Times on the Fetal Microbiome

I just went back and listened to this interview I did on “Radiolab” with Robert Krulwich a couple years ago. It’s about the life within us. I led Robert on a quick tour through our gut, stopping to describe a few of the many species that lurk inside our bodies.

It all still holds true, I think–except for one thing I say at 3:02.

It’s at that point that I say that in the womb, we’re sterile. Only as we’re being born, I inform Robert, do we start to getting inoculated with microbes.

I thought I was right at the time. Scientist after scientist told me that. I read it in scientific reviews.

But now a number of scientists are having some serious doubts about sterile fetuses. In fact, mothers might be seeding their babies in the womb, bestowing on them the friends that will help them get through pregnancy safely and get off to a good start in life.

If Krulwich ever asks me again about the microbiome, I’ve got something to add.

This fascinating new prospect is the subject of my new “Matter” column today in the New York Times. Check it out. (Here’s an alternate link if the recent NYT hacking woes are still causing grief.)

 

There are 2 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Serge D.
    September 1, 2013

    This reminds me of other claims:

    1) blood is sterile

    - in reality you can find bacteria and viruses if you use PCR techniques. Hopefully at healthy levels (arbitrary defined as “low” counts).

    2) urine is sterile

    - this one has been debunked a long time ago. Now an infection is defined as the presence of a species of bacteria above a arbitrary threshold deemed clinically significant.

    Talking about strange ideas, have you consider writing about micro-chimera? i.e. presence of cells of previous pregnancies in the mother?

    Regards.

  2. Arnold Padilla
    September 21, 2013

    Having to access your articles on NYT subscriber access is unacceptable. I have followed your blogs for years. I will miss the information.

    AP

    [CZ: Sorry to lose you. But I find it odd that you describe a subscription to a newspaper as "unacceptable," as if it is a moral failing. If you don't want to spend the money, that's your choice. But I write for a living, not for charity.]

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