Babies are born sterile. The microbial ecosystem that thrives on and inside each of us-stomach bacteria that help us digest food, for instance-are acquired post-birth, presumably through contact with our mothers. But what of babies born prematurely, separated from their mothers, and treated in sterile neonatal intensive care units? How do these infants acquire the microbes needed to survive outside the womb? This grant supports the research of UC, Berkeley professor Jill Banfield, who is investigating this very question. In a one-year pilot study with collaborator Dr. Michael Morowitz of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Banfield will examine the microbial profiles of the air, water, and surfaces of a neonatal intensive care unit and compare the profiles to those found in the gut of three premature infants staying in the ICU. Using modern molecular tools, the research team will analyze the microbial profiles of the neonatal intensive care unit environments over time and space to potentially identify the sources of microbes involved in infant gut colonization.