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Researchers, including Lal and colleagues, have previously seen that the lungs of infants, sampled immediately after birth, are colonized with bacteria. Furthermore, similar microbiome profiles are found after either cesarean or vaginal delivery, which suggested that microbes somehow are able to reach the lungs before birth.
In the new study, 31 samples of lung, placenta and intestine tissue from fetuses between 11 and 20 weeks of gestation were collected. Duplicate, independent tests done in labs at Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, and at UAB detected bacterial DNA in all samples. The two labs used different DNA extraction kits and different microbiome analysis pipelines.
Bacterial DNA was detected through targeted analysis of the bacterial gene for 16S ribosomal RNA, which is a standard method to distinguish different microbial taxa. The initial 16S analysis in Singapore showed 48 unique taxa in the lung samples, 11 unique taxa in placenta samples and 24 shared taxa.
The 16S analysis of the same samples at UAB showed two separate human fetal lung microbiome groups, based on fetal age -- one group at 11 to 15 weeks' gestation, and the other at 16 to 20 weeks' gestation. Furthermore, the two gestational age groups showed a significant change in microbiome diversity with time.
"Overall, at both lab sites," Lal said, "analysis of the bacterial taxa distribution and diversity showed some overlap in microbiome signatures of fetal lungs and matched placentas." Source:
University of Alabama at Birmingham Journal reference:
Al Alam, D., et al . (2020) Human Fetal Lungs Harbor a Microbiome Signature. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine . doi.org/10.1164/rccm.201911-2127LE .
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