Lessons learned from the prenatal microbiome controversy

Martin J. Blaser*, Suzanne Devkota*, Kathy D. McCoy*, David A. Relman*, Moran Yassour*, Vincent B. Young*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debate

58 Scopus citations


For more than a century, the prenatal environment was considered sterile. Over the last few years, findings obtained with next-generation sequencing approaches from samples of the placenta, the amniotic fluid, meconium, and even fetal tissues have challenged the dogma of a sterile womb, and additional reports have emerged that used culture, microscopy, and quantitative PCR to support the presence of a low-biomass microbial community at prenatal sites. Given the substantial implications of prenatal exposure to microbes for the development and health of the host, the findings have gathered substantial interest from academics, high impact journals, the public press, and funding agencies. However, an increasing number of studies have challenged the prenatal microbiome identifying contamination as a major issue, and scientists that remained skeptical have pointed to inconsistencies with in utero colonization, the impact of c-sections on early microbiome assembly, and the ability to generate germ-free mammals. A lively academic controversy has emerged on the existence of the wider importance of prenatal microbial communities. Microbiome has asked experts to discuss these issues and provide their thoughts on the implications. To allow for a broader perspective of this discussion, we have specifically selected scientists, who have a long-standing expertise in microbiome sciences but who have not directly been involved in the debate so far.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number8
Issue number1
StatePublished - 12 Jan 2021

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