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Your bacterial birthday suit reveals the mode of your birth

birthday suit.jpg

We come into this world wearing a coat not of cloth but of one-celled organisms. A new study led by Elizabeth Costello, PhD, now at Stanford, and her colleagues at Colorado University and two Venezuelan institutes has shown that the coat newborns wear reflects their mode of delivery - vaginal versus Caesarean.

Every normal human being is a walking soil patch for an ecosystem of interacting microbes. We bear distinctive signatures in the form of our resident microbes, both in our gut and (as blogged here last November) on our skin. The new study by Costello and her colleagues is important, because it could go some distance toward explaining the greater susceptibility of infants delivered via C-section to some allergies and pathogenic infections.

It would be interesting to find out whether these congenital differences persist over time. There is already reason to believe that the coat of bacteria you're wearing provides a fair amount of information about where you've come from, what you've been eating, your state of health, and so forth: a sort of diary-cum-tattoo. Could it be that a simple skin swab will someday reveal your entire history all the way back to your birth?

Photo by NickWeiler

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