BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: infants

MRIs Catch Autism Prior to Symptoms

Mark Lythgoe & Chloe Hutton / Wellcome Images Image Link

Research

By using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), researchers are now able to accurately study and predict which infants, among those with older autistic siblings, will be diagnosed by the age of 2. According to an article on Science daily, in the past couple of years, researchers have correctly predicted 80 percent of these infants who would later meet criteria for autism at 24 months of age.

A study published in Nature, shows how early brain biomarkers can be very beneficial in identifying infants at the highest risk for autism prior to any symptoms. Joseph Piven, professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, explains how typically autism cannot be detected in infants until they ages 2-4, but for infants with autistic siblings, it can be determined at an earlier age.

People diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), experience social deficits and  demonstrate very specific stereotypical behaviors. According to this study, it is estimated that one out of 68 children develop autism in the United States and that  for infants with older siblings with autism, the risk may be as high as 20 out of every 100 births. Despite these high numbers, it remains a difficult task to detect behavioral symptoms prior to 24 months of age.

Piven, along with a couple of other researchers, conducted MRI scans of infants at six, 12, and 24 months of age. They discovered that increased growth rate of surface area in the first year of life was linked to increased growth rate of overall brain volume in the second year of life. This meant that brain overgrowth was tied to the emergence of autistic social deficits in the second year. The researchers then took the information they had and used a computer program that classified babies most likely to meet criteria for autism at 24 months of age, and developed an algorithm that they applied to a separate set of study participants.

The researchers found that there were brain differences at 6 and 12 months of age in infants with older siblings with autism and infants with older ASD siblings who did not meet criteria for autism at 24 months.

Plans for the Future

This research and test would be very beneficial to a family who already has a child with autism and has a second child who may or may not be affected. The ideal goal would be to intervene and provide as much assistance to the infant and family prior to the emergence of symptoms. By intervening at early stages and when the brain is most susceptible, researchers hope to improve the outcomes of treatment.

In the nature study, Piven describes how Parkinson’s and Autism are similar in that when the person is diagnosed, they’ve already lost a substantial portion of the dopamine receptors in their brain, making treatment less effective.

One mother who has benefitted from this discovery and is extremely grateful is Rachel O’Connor. When interviewed by News12, she shared how early intervention “has brought out some language in [her] daughter,” and how her daughter “can now say what she wants and she desires. She makes better eye contact.”

 

Parents Take Warning: Antibiotics Can Be Harmful to Infants

Antibiotics are the marvel of modern medicine. They have brought about incredible medical advances, treating bacterial diseases and helping to prolong lifespans in modern times. But a new study conducted by researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital and the Broad Institute has shined a light on the potential negative effects antibiotics can have on an infant’s health.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/herebedragons/2573487530

The study, conducted in partnership with a team of Finnish researchers, took monthly fecal samples from 39 children from birth until they were 36 months old and analyzed the sample using standard, RNA sequencing procedure to identify different microbes. During the study, 20 of the children had taken antibiotics for respiratory or ear infections ranging from 9 to 15 treatments over the course of the study. From this data, the researchers could analyze the diversity of the gut microbiome of these participants with respect to their antibiotic usage.

The researchers had chosen to analyze the effect antibiotics have on the gut microbiome in young children because of the pivotal role antibiotics appear to play in human health during early development. Low diversity in the early years of life of this collection of bacteria residing in the intestines has been linked to allergies and autoimmune diseases.

The results of this study show a decrease in the diversity of the microbial gut populations in infants who took antibiotics. This was even more pronounced when the infants were marked with a specific signature low in a bacteria known as Bacteriodes (this decrease in Bacteriodes has been speculated to be linked to Caesarean section births in the past but the researchers found this rationale to be inconclusive as well as another rationale that prolonged breastfeeding led to a stronger gut microbiome with higher levels of Bifidobacteria).

When the infants had taken antibiotics, a single strain of bacteria tended to rule their gut with only a few species surviving. On the whole, the gut microbiomes of these participants were less stable and had higher levels of antibiotic resistant genes.

Don’t get me wrong: antibiotics are an incredible innovation that has saved millions of lives. But, be careful in thinking they are a cure all. They’re side-effects might be more harmful than you think, especially in children.

How does this research change your perception of antibiotics?

 

Infants’ Feces Says a Lot about the Gut Microbiome

Who knew studying babies’ poop can actually lead to amazing discoveries about childbirth, breastfeeding, antibiotics, allergies, and asthma?

That’s exactly what scientists Fredrik Bäckhed and Jovanna Dahlgren at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, and Wang Jun at the Beijing Genomics Institute-Shenzhen, China recently learned when they conducted a study analyzing feces from 98 Swedish infants.

But before we get into the details of the study, let’s get down the basics first. What exactly is the gut microbiome?

Gut microbiome is the name given to the population of microbiota organisms that live in the human intestine. These microorganisms are unique, not only because there are trillions of them but also because they have milliions of genes, and can function as a person’s identity card (much like a fingerprint or a strand of hair).

Screen Shot 2016-01-08 at 10.45.15 PM

(Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fecal_bacteriotherapy#/media/File:E_coli_at_10000x,_original.jpg)

Recently there’s been a lot of buzz in the science world about the gut microbiome because it seems as though it plays various crucial functions, and this study is just one of many. The Swedish and Chinese scientists discovered a few ways in how the gut microbiome affects childbirth, breastfeeding, and development.

There are two ways to give birth: vaginally or via a cesarean section, or C-section. Comparing the feces collected from babies born vaginally and from babies born via C-section, scientists discovered that the feces from the latter contains a significantly less similar microbiome to the microbiome of their mothers.

They also determined that nutrition during the early stages of an infant’s life is a core factor in the development of the gut microbiome.

Our findings surprisingly demonstrated that cessation of breastfeeding, rather than introduction of solid foods, is the major driver in the development of an adult-like microbiota

-Fredrik Bäckhed, lead study author

Bacteria rely on the mother’s milk to grow. Once the bacteria’s access to that milk stops, the bacteria stops growing. In its place, adult-like microorganisms emerge.

In addition, the gut microbiome acts as nutrients and vitamins to the infant’s growth and development, and gives aid to important processes such as making amino acids.

The study also critiques the amount of antibiotics given to babies when they’re born. There’s speculation that the baby’s gut microbiome is negatively impacted by the overabundance and overexposure of antibiotics. Besides the obvious risk of antibiotic resistance, one hypothesis is that when exposed to antibiotics early on, the gut microbiome loses important bacteria that helps immune cells mature. This is believed to be the reason why allergies and asthma are now widely prevalent.

Though this study is just a preliminary, it’s amazing just how big of an effect the gut microbiome has on us, and how much new research is coming out.

Want to learn more about the gut microbiome? Check out other sources about the microbiome, such as it’s relationship on the brain, and how it can change the brain’s function, how it can help reduce weight, and junk food’s negative impact on it, and make sure to comment below!

 

 

Original Article

Learning to Love

Photo Credit: Victoria Made Flickr

For years, scientists have believed that the nurture and love we receive from our parents when we are an infant, determines how we are when we are older. We learn very early on to trust and love and the relationship you have with your parents when you are a baby can affect relationships you have later in life. For example, researchers say that a mistreated infant may turn argumentative in stressful situations, while nurtured babies tend to deal with stress more skillfully.

Researchers Simpson, Collins, and Salvatore put babies and their mothers in high-tension situations and then years later researched the babies’ relationships. The researchers found that there is a link between the situations babies are put in and the relationship to the mother, and later relationships and stress management. However, they also found that although there is a link, it is not an extremely strong factor. You can learn to love, trust, and throughout your life, even if something traumatic did happen in your infancy.

SALT: Hate it or love it? Either way you can blame your parents.

Some Rights Reserved: www.flickr.com/photos/monkeyc/12276275/

As a salt hater myself, I find it hard to understand why my grandmother pours salt over salads, soups, even “bland” sandwiches. Why she seasons all her food so that it tastes like salt water was always a mystery to me.

So why DO some people like salt while others hate it?

The answer may lie in what parents feed their children between the ages of two months and six months- sometimes unknowingly giving their children food with lots of salt.
According to the study, infants who ate only baby food and other natural foods like fruits and vegetables (all of which contain little or no salt) during their first six months disliked or were indifferent to salty foods by preschool age. On the other hand, the children who had consumed salty foods in infancy preferred salty foods over food without salt. Unfortunately, these children tended to adore unhealthy, salty foods like potato chips, French fries, hot dogs and pretzels.

The good thing about consuming salt is that it is necessary for humans to function properly.
For example, humans need salt to make the digestive acid, hydrochloric acid. Also, oftentimes it is mixed with iodine – another element necessary for human life. In the late 900’s, salt was worth its weight in gold in many African kingdoms simply because it is so vital.

So how much salt is too much?

On average, a person needs to consume about 500 mg
day. However, most americans consume ten times that amount.

We Americans have trouble consuming too much salt. Too much salt can lead to hypertension and heart attacks. Normally, the kidney filters the blood so that excess salt will be released in the urine. However, when people eat huge amounts of salt, some of the excess remains in the bloodstream. For some people, the increased salinity in the blood causes blood pressure to rise to unsafe levels. Unsafe because, as we learned in class, hypertension can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

So, for most babies it is better when the parents stick to low sodium foods, especially since the infants showed no preference for salt at two months, meaning that my grandmother, and other “salt lovers” probably aren’t born with their love of salty foods. Salt “loving” seem to be a behavior that, once moulded between the ages of 2 and 6 months, has lasting effects on that person’s preferences.

 

Main Article: http://www.cnn.com/2011/12/21/health/salt-preferences-determined-early/index.html?hpt=he_t3

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