Exploring development and evolution of the maternal and infant skin microbiome

Lead Research Organisation: University of East Anglia
Department Name: Biological Sciences


Human skin faces constant external challenge. While skin has evolved to combat insults such as infection and pollution a key element of its defence is the human microbiome, the first layer of protection. The skin microbiome is essential in the priming of the infant immune system to distinguish health associated commensal organisms from potentially pathogenic ones. Despite the increasing recognition of the importance of the skin microbiome health there has been little investigation of the baby skin microbiome, and almost no investigation of the longitudinal development of that microbiome after birth.

The process of microbiome seeding occurs during birth and has been shown to be impacted by delivery method. Available evidence suggests that skin of vaginally delivered infants is biologically distinct, being dominated by bacteria of the genus Lactobacillus, seeded from the maternal vaginal microbiome whereas infants born via C-section have a skin microbiome dominated by skin bacteria e.g. Staphylococcus and Corynebacterium. Limited information exists on how the skin microbiome development is impacted by external factors including bathing, environmental factors and diet. Such changes are potentially highly significant as the disruption of the infant gut and skin microbiome development have been associated with a number of conditions in both infants and young children and include atopic dermatitis and Asthma.

Recently, the Quadram Institute has initiated the comprehensive Pregnancy and Early Life (PEARL) study. This longitudinal study of over 200 mothers and their children will investigate how the human skin and gut microbiome contributes to maintaining health during pregnancy and early life. Questionnaires will be completed by all participants encompassing hygiene information, household structure, diet and health information.

This project seeks to investigate the development and evolution of the skin microbiome while gaining a greater understanding of the impact that microbial dysbiosis in early years can have on skin health. These insights will be essential to the formulation of the next generation of skin care products to maintain skin health across the life course.

1, Analyse changes in the infant skin microbiome providing a detailed understanding of the composition and temporal development of the infant microbiome.
2, Comparison of developing baby skin microbiome to mother's vaginal microbiome at birth to investigate microbiome evolution.
3, Assessment of changes to baby gut microbiome and its potential impact on skin microbiome development to determine nutritional interventions for the treatment of skin microbiome dysbiosis.
4, Isolation and phenotypic characterisation of bacterial isolates, mother and baby, to elucidate specific functional traits.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
BB/T508974/1 01/10/2020 30/09/2024
2449768 Studentship BB/T508974/1 01/10/2020 30/09/2024 Iliana Serghiou