Maternal diet during pregnancy has a persistent effect on the offspring’s gut microbes in macaques, reports a study in Nature Communications this week. This suggests that variations in a mother’s diet might affect the offspring’s health, as gut microbes can play roles in the development of several medical conditions, such as obesity and autoimmune disorders.
The influence of mothers’ and babies’ diet on the early microbial colonisation of the intestine is poorly understood and present knowledge is mostly based on mouse studies. Kjersti Aagaard and colleagues analysed the microbial catalogue (or microbiome) of the gut of Japanese macaques, whose physiology is very similar to ours. By feeding the animals high-fat or low-fat diets, they found that maternal diet during gestation and lactation greatly affected the offspring’s gut microbiome. Moreover, the effects on the microbiome were persistent and were only partially reversed by corresponding changes in the offspring’s diet after weaning.
The present work highlights that diet, during pregnancy and early in life, plays a key role in determining the composition of the gut microbiome. Further research is required to determine how the effects on the microbiome impact on the health of children and adults, and whether dietary interventions during pregnancy, or after weaning, can protect from development of certain diseases.