Dr Elloise du Toit, senior scientist, Department of Pathology, University of Cape Town
Microbes, particularly bacteria, colonise every surface of the body, including the skin, oral and nasal cavities, and the urogenital and gastrointestinal tract. Even organs previously thought to be sterile have been shown to harbour a complex microbial community. Of all these sites, the gut is particularly heavily populated, with more than 1 000 distinct bacterial species essential to gut function. The microbiota is unique to every individual. Its make-up can be influenced by physiological, cultural and environmental factors such as mode of delivery, mode of infant feeding, lifestyle and antibiotic use.
One of the most important microbial inoculations we receive as newborns comes from our mother’s breast milk. Initially thought to only contain microbes during an infection, breast milk contains thousands of bacteria which seed the newborn gut, helping the baby break down food and boost the immune system.
These lectures will cover the importance of microbes in the body and their contribution to our health, as well as the factors that can shift them into a state of dysbiosis and disease. The two-lecture course ends by considering microbes and other nutritional components in a mother’s milk. How do these bacteria get into the milk in the first place and what role do they play in the baby’s gut?
1. The microbes in and on us and how they keep us thriving
2. Breast milk: a mother’s genius
Gerritsen J., Smidt H., Rijkers GT, de Vos WM. 2011. Intestinal microbiota in human health and disease: the impact of probiotics. Genes Nutr. 6: 209–240.
Jeurink PV., van Bergenhenegouwen J., Jiminez E., et al. 2013. Human milk: a source of more life than we imagine. Benef Microbes 4: 17–30.