Vanderbilt School of Medicine | Vanderbilt University | Vanderbilt Medical Center

Maternal Microbial Transmission

Media Coverage and Blog Posts:

The New York Times' Carl Zimmer on Human Microbiome May Be Seeded Before Birth

Dr. Jonathan Eisen blogs about the PLOS Biology publication

When a microbe occupies the niche of an animal or plant, a conflict or compromise ensues that is dependent upon the efficacy of the immune response. But what happens when the host becomes an environment for the microbe to transmit itself from generation to generation. In this scenario, the offspring inherit the bacteria from mother. How common is this phenomenon in animals and plants and what are the mechanisms and relevance to fitness and disease?

We propose that existing evidence from disparate study systems and diverse subdisciplines compels a conceptual shift on the ubiquity of maternal microbial transmission, either internally or externally, and it may have critical implications for health and evolution.

Specifically, we are interested in the biomolecular networks and genetic interactions between hosts and microbes that govern maternal microbial transmission. To address the interplay between host genetics and maternally transmitted bacteria, we seek to answer the following three questions: (1) How many host genes affect transmission of and immunity to maternally transmitted bacteria? (2) What molecular mechanisms are deployed to trasmit bacteria from mom to offspring? and (3) What are the roles of dominance and epistasis among these genes and phenotypesß?

Selected Publications:

Romano-Keeler, J., D.J. Moore, C. Wang, R.M. Brucker, C. Fonnesbeck, J.C. Slaughter, H. Li, D.P. Curran, S. Meng, H. Correa, H.N. Lovvorn, Y. Tang, S.R. Bordenstein, A.L. George, J. Weitkamp (2014) Early life establishment of site-specific microbial communities in the gut Gut Microbes link

Funkhouser, L.J. and S.R. Bordenstein (2013) Mom knows best: The universality of maternal microbial transmission. PLOS Biology e1001631. Paper |Symbionticsm Blog

Brucker, R.M., Funkhouser, L.J., Setia, S., Pauly, R. and S. R. Bordenstein (2012) Insect innate immunity database (IIID): An annotation tool for identifying immune genes in insect genomes. PLOS One e45125. Paper | Database