Food Science and Technology Department


Date of this Version



mSphere 3:e00041-18.


© 2018 Henrick et al.

Open access


Historically, Bifidobacterium species were reported as abundant in the breastfed infant gut. However, recent studies in resource-rich countries show an increased abundance of taxa regarded as signatures of dysbiosis. It is unclear whether these differences are the product of genetics, geographic factors, or interventions such as formula feeding, antibiotics, and caesarean section. Fecal pH is strongly associated with Bifidobacterium abundance; thus, pH could be an indicator of its historical abundance. A review of 14 clinical studies published between 1926 and 2017, representing more than 312 healthy breastfed infants, demonstrated a change in fecal pH from 5.0 to 6.5 (adjusted r2 = 0.61). This trend of increasing infant fecal pH over the past century is consistent with current reported discrepancies in Bifidobacterium species abundance in the gut microbiome in resource-rich countries compared to that in historical reports. Our analysis showed that increased fecal pH and abundance of members of the families Enterobacteriaceae, Clostridiaceae, Peptostreptococcaceae, and Veillonellaceae are associated, indicating that loss of highly specialized Bifidobacterium species may result in dysbiosis, the implications of which are not yet fully elucidated. Critical assessment of interventions that restore this ecosystem, measured by key parameters such as ecosystem productivity, gut function, and long-term health, are necessary to understand the magnitude of this change in human biology over the past century.

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