€3.4m invested by PrecisionBiotics and Science Foundation Ireland in Microbe Mom

Microbe Mom is new therapeutic research collaboration investigating:

  • the most likely methods of transfer of bifidobacteria strains from mother to baby,

  • the impact of the mother’s diet and health on her gut bacteria and what bacteria she transfers to her baby at birth,

  • the impact of specific probiotic supplements on the mother’s health.

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Microbe Mom is a joint research investment of €3.4 million by Science Foundation Ireland through the SFI Spokes programme, and leading Irish company PrecisionBiotics. It will operate as a 4-way collaboration between:

  • PrecisionBiotics Group, an innovative Irish healthcare company pioneering the discovery and development of proprietary microbiome-based products,

  • the SFI Research Centre APC Microbiome Ireland in Teagasc and University College Cork,

  • the UCD Perinatal Research Centre, School of Medicine, University College Dublin, and

  • National Institute of Biotechnology Research and Training (NIBRT).

Welcoming the investment, Irish Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, John Halligan, TD, said “I welcome the announcement of the Microbe Mom research project today, which will focus on improving the health of mothers and babies by looking at the diet of mothers and the transfer of bacteria at birth. The wellbeing of mothers and babies is very important to the Irish Government, and so it is great to see this significant joint-investment by the Government Agency, Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), and Irish company, PrecisionBiotics Group. This project will build on the long-standing partnership between the company and the SFI Research Centre ‘APC Microbiome Ireland’ in UCC, which in and of itself is a demonstration of the great heights that Irish science can achieve.”

Microbe Mom – Transfer of Specific Strains

The core mission of this R&D programme is about reaching the infant in a novel and non-invasive way to allow precise and targeted delivery of probiotics to facilitate healthy development of the infant.

Healthy development and maturation of a newborn baby is dependent on more than the genes of both parents; the microbes in the infant’s gut are also essential. These microbes, collectively referred to as the microbiota, are acquired primarily by mother-to-baby transfer at birth, and subsequently from the environment. While much research to date has addressed the impact of the environment on the microbiota, the Microbe Mom research programme will focus on transfer of specific strains of bacteria from mother to baby, and in particular, the Bifidobacteria strains.

The Main Bacteria - Bifidobacteria

Bifidobacteria are the main bacteria that nature selects for the newborn gut and have been shown to play a key role in programming metabolism and the immune system. Indeed, exposure to the right microbes in this critical development window plays an important role in allergy and asthma risk as well as metabolic health in later life (1,2). In Ireland 25% of women of reproductive age have increased weight with a BMI of greater than 30 (3). Abnormal sugar control in pregnancy affects 5-15% of pregnancies. Normal sugar control is important in pregnancy as high sugars are known to increase the risk of large for dates infants (4, 5). Supplementation with probiotics has been shown to improve sugar control in men and women with type 2 diabetes (6,7) and prevent worsening insulin resistance in late pregnancy (8). Probiotics may have a role in normalising sugar in this group of women. However, each bacterial strain is unique and these studies will identify the optimum bifidobacteria for mother and baby health.

“Bifidobacteria have received significant attention due to their proven contribution to human gut health and the use of specific strains as probiotics. Advances in DNA sequencing technology allow us to develop scientifically proven and clinically supported probiotic bifidobacteria, and investigate their transfer from mom to baby,” according to Microbe Mom project leader Dr Paul Cotter, Head of Department Food Biosciences in Teagasc and Principal Investigator at APC Microbiome Ireland.

Dr Eileen Murphy, Technical Director, PrecisionBiotics Group said “This research is key to understanding which bacteria make a key difference to baby. It’s also vital to understand how they can best be transferred to baby too e.g. should they be given to the mother during pregnancy or should we give them directly to baby? This knowledge will help us develop a range of probiotics with the precise qualities we need to optimise maternal and baby health”.

Fergus Shanahan, Director of APC Microbiome Ireland added “this collaboration is further evidence of the wisdom of national research centres and APC Microbiome Ireland is delighted to be blending the expertise of the APC scientists with working such wonderful clinician-scientists at the National Maternity Hospital and bioprocessing experts at NIBRT”.

“Pregnancy and early life present a unique time in the life course, where mother and baby health can be significantly improved. This innovative research programme holds considerable potential to improve mother’s health in pregnancy, in terms of sugars and blood lipids and to enhance baby’s health in the long-term by ensuring a healthy gut microbiome. We are delighted to provide the clinical expertise for this national research collaboration. The Microbe Mom research will contribute to our overall aim of enabling women to have the healthiest pregnancies and the healthiest babies they can” said Professor Fionnuala McAuliffe, Professor of Obstetrics & Gynaecology at University College Dublin & National Maternity Hospital, and Director of UCD Perinatal Research Centre

Key Facts and Figures

  • Bifidobacteria are the main bacteria that nature selects for the newborn gut and have been shown to play a key role in programming metabolism and the immune system.

  • Infant-associated strains of Bifidobacteria are adapted to use carbohydrates found in human breast milk

  • Certain strains of Bifidobacteria have been transmitted between father and child, husband and wife, and even across three generations (9).

  • 25% of women of reproductive age have increased weight with a BMI of greater than 30 (3).

  • Abnormal sugar control in pregnancy affects 5-15% of pregnancies.

  • PrecisionBiotics’ probiotic Bifidobacterium longum 35624® strain is the number one culture recommended by gastroenterologists and doctors who recommended a brand of probiotic for IBS in AlphaImpactRx 2008–2017 surveys.

  • APC Microbiome Ireland has been ranked based on citations in the top 5 microbiome centres worldwide and ranked #1 in Europe. APC has been ranked number 1 in the world for both “Probiotics” and “Infection & Antimicrobials” and 5th in the world for “gut-related disease”(10). APC scientists John Cryan, Paul Ross, Catherine Stanton, Elke Arendt have all been ranked as “highly cited” researchers in the top 1% in their field in 2017 by Clarivate Analytics (11) .


1. Cox LM, et al., (2014) Altering the intestinal microbiota during a critical developmental window has lasting metabolic consequences. Cell. 2014;158:705–721. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2014.05.052

2. Arrieta MC, et al. (2014) Early infancy microbial and metabolic alterations affect risk of childhood asthma. Sci. Transl. Med. 2015;7:307ra152. doi: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aab2271.

3. EURO_PERISTAT Perinatal Health Indicators (2010) http://www.europeristat.com/our-indicators/euro-peristat-perinatal-health-indicators-2010.html

4. Walsh JM, Mahony R, Byrne J, Foley M, McAuliffe FM (2011). The association of maternal and fetal glucose homeostasis with fetal adiposity and birthweight.

Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol. 2011 Dec;159(2):338-41. doi: 10.1016/j.ejogrb.2011.09.022. Epub 2011 Oct 6)

5. Walsh JM, McAuliffe FM. (2012) Prediction and prevention of the macrosomic fetus.

Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol. 2012 Jun;162(2):125-30. doi: 10.1016/j.ejogrb.2012.03.005. Epub 2012 Mar 27. Review.

6. Andreasen AS, Larsen N, Pedersen-Skovsgaard T, Berg RM, Moller K, Svendsen KD, et al.(2010) Effects of Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM on insulin sensitivity and the systemic inflammatory response in human subjects. British Journal of Nutrition2010;104(12):1831-8.

7. Ejtahed HS, Mohtadi-Nia J, Homayouni-Rad A, Niafar M, Asqhari-Jafarabadi M, Mofid V.(2012) Probiotic yogurt improves antioxidant status in type 2 diabetic patients. Nutrition2012;28(5):539-43.

8. Asemi Z, Samimi M, Tabassi Z, Naghibi Rad M, Rahimi Foroushani A, Khorammian H, et al. Effect of daily consumption of probiotic yoghurt on insulin resistance in pregnant women: a randomized controlled trial. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition2013;67(1):71-4

9. T. Odamaki , F Bottacini, K. Kato, K.Yoshida, A. Horigome, J.z.Xiao and D.van Sinderen (2018) Genomic diversity and distribution of Bifidobacterium longum subsp. Longum across the human lifespan Scientific Reports 2018; 8: 85 doi 10.1038/s41598-017-18391-x;

10. Four APC Researchers Feature in 2017 World’s Most Highly Cited List http://apc.ucc.ie/look-brightest-stars/

11. APC at the Forefront of Microbiome Research http://apc.ucc.ie/apc-at-the-forefront-of-microbiome-research-2/

12. Among gastroenterologists who recommended a brand of probiotic in AlphaImpactRx 2008–2017 surveys. Among doctors who recommended a brand of probiotic in AlphaImpactRx 2017 survey.