From "A Universe of Us", a quote to start us off:
"We are not just the expression of an individual human genome. We are, as Dr. Gordon writes, “a genetic landscape,” a collective of genomes of hundreds of different species all working together — in ways that leave our minds mysteriously free to focus on getting our bodies to the office and wondering what’s for lunch."
"An Introduction to the Microbiome"- this is an excellent place to start in understanding the multitude of organisms in and on our bodies, the role they play, how they influence us and what influences them. There is a slideshow that links to s series of articles discussing the flora on our skin, in our gut, the role of what we eat, and more.
The article "Gut Bacteria May Cause and Fight Disease, Obesity" discusses research about how gut flora are necessary for proper digestion and absorption of nutrients, as well as research that links pathogenic microflora with obesity and Type 1 diabetes. Quote from the article:
"The obvious implication here," microbiologist Gibson says, "is that if you find bacteria which are responsible for diseases — and you can include obesity in this — you can then target them to reduce the risk of that disease." University of Chicago immunologist Alexander Chervonsky, with collaborators from Yale University, recently reported that doses of the right stomach bacteria can stop the development of type 1 diabetes in lab mice. "By changing who is living in our guts, we can prevent type 1 diabetes," he told The Wall Street Journal.
Gut Flora and Autism:
A recent study found a distinct pattern of gut microflora in children with autism as compared to non-autistic controls. Quote from this article:
Professor Jeremy Nicholson, the author of the study, said: "Children with autism have very unusual gut microbes which we can test for before the full blown symptoms of the disease come through. "If that is the case then it might become a preventable disease."
Here is another article that gives more information about Jeremy Nicholson and his work trying to understand the link between intestinal microflora and various diseases (thank you Mrs Ed).
Gut Flora and Allergies:
Probiotics in Allergic Diseases of Childhood, by Hauer, A (original article in German)
excerpt from abstract "Experimental data and initial results of clinical studies show that the immune system of infants can be stimulated by the endogenous intestinal flora. Probiotics, (apathogenic organisms present in human intestinal flora) have a very similar effect: Infants at risk of developing atopy, who, in the first 6 months of life received a special probiotic, contracted atopic dermatitis after two years only half as frequently as a control group of infants."
So, where does a healthy and robust gut flora come from? What factors contribute to it's proper development or to a state of disease?
The human GI tract is sterile during gestation. It is during birth that our bodies are first colonized, and under normal and healthy circumstances this colonization would be by the flora of the mother's vagina. The flora of both parents is relevant, as the father's flora is passed to the mother during sex. When a baby is born by c-section, it is colonized by micro-organisms that are present in the room. After the initial colonization, the microflora continues to develop and is largely influenced by diet. In breastfed infants, the mother's intestinal microflora is incorporated into her milk and helps to encourage optimal development of the baby's intestinal flora. Formula-fed infants have different flora than their breastfed peers, partly because they don't receive the mother's friendly bacteria during feeding and partly because the food that we eat plays a role in determining which species will dominate our inner ecosystem.
Klaire Labs has an article on their site that describes the colonization and development of the infant microflora in great detail, and which also provides information on the use of probiotic supplements for infants.
Micrometabolic Imprinting in Infancy: Microflora, Probiotics and Chronic Disease
Here is the abstract for an article that discusses the dramatic difference found in the gut microflora of very-low-birthweight babies (among other things). This is interesting as infants born premature have been found to have a significantly higher rate of developing autism.
Intestinal Microflora in Early Infancy: Composition and Development
This article about the importance of breastfeeding in saving infant lives touches briefly on the importance of breastmilk in establishing a healthy gut flora:
"The mother’s milk selectively nurtures just a few species of bacteria and kills or suppresses pathogens and adult gut flora. Mother’s milk is especially important during hospital stays, because the longer a baby is in a hospital, the more contaminated her gut flora becomes with potential pathogens".
Why Discuss Mother's Milk on an Inflammation Blog?
In the article "Gut Bacteria Recap the Evolution of Apes" the role of diet and the environment in influencing the gut flora, beyond early infancy, is addressed. Research is presented in this article to support the idea that our gut flora (actually our entire microbiome) is highly determined by our species, but this sounds to me like it may simply be more evidence of flora being passed from mother to child.