HUMAN infants were born on forest floors for thousands of years before the advent of sterile hospital theatres yet our race not only survived, it thrived, says University of Southern Queensland (USQ) Fraser Coast Nursing Lecturer Ruth Newby.
“Today, human infants born by cesarean section are at a nutritional disadvantage compared to those born naturally,” Mrs Newby said.
“A cesarean-born baby will take longer for its gut to be colonised in the same way as an infant born naturally because it doesn’t get the same ‘bugs’ from the mother.”
Modern society’s excessive reliance on disinfectants and antibiotics will be in the spotlight at the USQ Fraser Coast Open Day this Sunday (August 2) when the local scientist and research fellow makes her Future Talks presentation titled Aliens, or old friends?
“Most of us look into the night sky and wonder if there is intelligent life somewhere else in the universe,” Mrs Newby said.
“When we look for aliens in outer space, what we don’t always recognise is that aliens are not only around us in our environment but actually inside us.
“We look at our own planet and think scientists know all about everything on Earth but we are yet to discover the full spectrum of life here.
“Humans are intrinsically reliant on the organisms in our gut to make us healthy, to nourish us, yet we don’t know everything that’s there. We don’t recognize the DNA signature of about 25% of what’s in our gut so it’s a very alien environment.”
Mrs Newby said animals also had unidentified life forms inside their bodies.
“Koalas only digest gum leaves because they have microorganisms in their gut that allow them to ferment the leaves and extract the goodness,” she said.
“The microorganisms get there during birth. The babies eat their mothers’ waste to colonise themselves with the ‘bugs’ that allow them gain nourishment from their environment, enabling them to live.
“Baby koalas separated from their mothers soon after birth are unable to digest gum leaves and die.
“Humans also get a lot of nourishment from the microorganisms that come from the outside environment into our gut.
“In the earliest years of human existence, infants were born on forest floors so they naturally got a good gulp of mum’s ‘bugs’.
“Only now we’re learning how these aliens inside us are intrinsic to our health. We’ve been led to believe all bugs are bad but many bugs are incredibly important.”
Mrs Newby said the largest part of the human immune system was in the gut.
“Our immune system is involved in sensing and tolerating the external environment and it needs to learn how to identify what is good and what is concerning.
“If doesn’t get exposed to the entirety of the outside environment including the ‘bugs’ we get from our mothers during birth, it learns the wrong lessons.”
Mrs Newby is a USQ medical scientist, nursing lecturer and University of Queensland research fellow.
Her PhD project – Feeding Queensland Babies Study – investigates infant feeding attitudes and behaviours among first-time mothers in Queensland.
Feature photo: Are aliens closer to home than the moon?