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Garden of microbes found in healthy placentas

New study shows that diverse community of bacteria lives in placentas.
New study shows that diverse community of bacteria lives in placentas.
Getty Images/file photo

Although most people imagine that fetuses develop in a generally “sterile environment” within their mothers’ wombs, new research shows that they actually grow amidst low levels of bacteria that live in the placenta. This includes some kinds if e-coli that live in most healthy people’s intestines. In fact humans share their bodies with trillions of microbes, especially in the mouth, stomach and skin that play crucial roles in keeping us healthy, especially in the digestive tract.

This new revelation concerning what lives within the placenta (most of which are “good germs” however, has given researchers reason to believe that this cocktail of microbes may also play a part in premature births according to Dr. Kjersti Aagaard of the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX., who found that many of the microbes found in the mouth end up traveling to the womb via the bloodstream. Some of these serve to “metabolize nutrients, while others act as natural versions of medicines used to halt premature contractions. Still others were found to be toxic yeasts and parasites.

“It allows us to think about the biology of pregnancy in different ways than we have before, that pregnancy and early life aren’t supposed to be these totally sterile events,” she stated. “It also makes us wonder why the bodies allow them to remain.”

Aagaard and her colleagues from Baylor and Texas Children’s Hospital analyzed 320 donated placentas in their study. They now plan to conduct broader research to determine the link between microbial colonies found in womens’ mouths and placentas of 500 pregnant women at “risk for premature birth.”