With Foundation support, a team led by Jillian Banfield at the University of California, Berkeley has been investigating how preterm infants, taken from their mothers at birth and placed in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs), nonetheless acquire the microbes that will become their human microbiome. Initial findings suggest microbes from the “sterile” NICU itself colonize the infants. This grant supports the continuation of Banfield’s work for an additional three years.
Banfield hypothesizes that certain forms of microbial life can survive in NICU environments for months or years, travel from room to room by riding on nurses’ clothing, and eventually become incorporated into infant gut, oral, or skin microbiomes. To test these hypotheses, Banfield and her team will track three rooms and their occupants in the NICU of the Magee-Women’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, PA over two years. Using advanced metagenomic techniques, the team will identify persistent, room‐adapted strains of microbes living in the NICU, identify which of these strains successfully colonize infant patients, and quantify the transfer of microbes via bioaerosols and travel vectors such as nurses’ uniforms.
The team will share their findings through journal publications, presentations at national and international conferences, and through blogs on microBE.net.