Father’s Gut Microbiome May Affect Child Health

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Written By Omph impha

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Tiny microbes in the gut may play a big role in overall health

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Decreased diversity and abundance of gut microbes in male mice increases the risk of their offspring having low birth weight, stunted growth and premature death. This suggests that the father gut microbiome can affect children’s health.

Much research has established a link between microbes in mothers and babiesbut little is known about the impact of paternal influence gut health.

Then Jamie Hackett at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Rome and colleagues treated 28 male mice with antibioticswhich decreased the abundance of gut microbes in animals by 10 times and altered the balance of microbial species.

The rodents – along with 12 other male mice that had stopped antibiotic treatment two months earlier and 26 control mice that had not received any antibiotics – then mated with females. Together, the groups produced more than 400 offspring.

Rat pups with impaired gut microbiomes had a variety of health problems not found in those whose parents had not taken antibiotics or stopped medication weeks before conception. They had significantly lower birth weights and were 2.5 times more likely to have severely stunted growth at 2 weeks of age. Approximately 17% of these offspring died within three months, while only 5% of the offspring of control mice died.

It is unclear how the gut microbiome exerts these effects. But new experiments revealed some clues. For example, mice treated with antibiotics had smaller testicles and lower sperm count than those who never took the medication. They also had different levels of certain hormones that influence reproductive health, such as leptin and testosterone, as well as differences in small molecules that regulate gene expression in sperm.

Mice impregnated by these animals also had changes in their placenta – that is, it was unable to provide sufficient nutrients to the fetus.

“This paper represents a significant advance in our understanding of the intricate relationship between gut health and reproductive health,” he says. Maria Glória Dominguez-Bello at Rutgers University in New Jersey. It’s the first time research has shown that disruptions in the paternal gut microbiome can affect male reproductive health, sperm quality and infant health, she says.

It also indicates that paternal health may be important for pregnancy outcomes, since placental changes are related to pregnancy complications, such as pre eclampsia in humans, says Hackett. But this is just speculation, as research on mice does not necessarily apply to humans, he adds.

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