The human microbiome is comprised of more than ten thousand different types of microorganisms that colonize the human body. These microbial communities have a profound impact on human health and well-being, and each person's microbiome is thought to be unique. Differences in microbiome composition can help explain why some people are more susceptible or resistant to certain diseases. Recent studies have revealed tremendous diversities in the communities that inhabit different sites of the body such as the mouth, gut and vagina. By understanding the microbial communities that make up a healthy microbiome and the factors that affect it, we may find new ways to treat, predict, prevent an array of human diseases.
Throughout a woman's life, the vaginal microbiome undergoes dramatic shifts that coincide with hormonal and lifestyle changes. The complexity of these communities and the genetic and environmental factors that influence these changes have yet to be fully described. The well established paradigm of vaginal health suggests that beneficial bacteria in the vagina produce lactic acid and create a low pH environment to protect against pathogens. We and other researchers are greatly expanding upon this framework using next-generation DNA sequencing technologies. A healthy vaginal microbiota can help to prevent urogenital conditions such as sexually transmitted infections (STIs), yeast infections, urinary tract infections and bacterial vaginosis. Studies leading to a better understanding of the vaginal microbiome will facilitate the discovery of improved treatments and diagnostics for STIs and other vaginal infections.
Human reproduction and passage of the microbiome from mother to child
A healthy vaginal microbiome also supports successful reproduction. Imbalances in bacterial communities can increase risk for infertility, spontaneous abortion and preterm birth. By better understanding the vaginal microbiome and its dynamics throughout pregnancy, we hope to promote reproductive health and reduce the preterm labor and delivery. Interestingly, a mother's vaginal microbiome may serve the evolutionary role of seeding the microbiome of her baby at birth, which may influence lifelong microbiome composition and health. Therefore, discerning the relationship between the vaginal microbiota and early infant microbiome acquisition holds global relevance across generations. Investigations in this field may contribute to a better understanding of how human microbial communities have evolved and secure the health of future generations.