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Researchers Find Bacteria In Healthy Placentas

Update Date: May 22, 2014 05:34 AM EDT

Researchers have found that a small but diverse community of bacteria lives in the placentas of healthy pregnant women. The findings invalidate the previous belief that fetuses grow in a pretty sterile environment. 

"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," said lead researcher Dr. Kjersti Aagaard of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, in the press release.

Findings of the study also suggested that the make-up of this microbial colony might play a role in premature birth. 

In the previous researches, the team studied the microbiome of the vagina and learned that its composition changes when a woman becomes pregnant. They were also surprised to find that the most common vaginal microbes weren't the same as the earliest gut bacteria that scientists were finding in newborns.

For this study, researchers analyzed 320 donated placentas through a technology that teased out bacterial DNA to evaluate the type of abundance of different microbes. 

"We have traditionally believed in medicine that the uterus is a sterile part of the human body," said Dr. Lita Proctor of the National Institutes of Health, who oversaw the microbiome project, in the press release.

"With the new research, we realize that microbes may play a role even in fetus development," added Proctor, who wasn't involved in the work. "The results of this study now open up a whole new line of research on maternal and pediatric health."

The research has been published in the journal Science Translational Medicine. 

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