The study, published in PLOS Computational Biology, finds that the composition of gut microbiota in a new-born baby's gut is linked to the rate of early infant growth - and so supports previous suggestions that the early development of the microbiota in an infant can influence growth rates and the likelihood of later obesity.
Led by Merete Eggesbo from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health the research team identified connections between different bacteria and both expected and reduced infant growth rates in more than 200 infants.
"We have created a new way of looking at the development of gut microbiota over time and relating this development to health outcomes," said the authors. "This is useful to the scientific community as it is difficult to characterise, in a meaningful way, how the gut develops over time."
"We found an indication that the composition of early life gut microbiota may be associated with how fast or slow babies grow in early life although there is also the possibility that factors early in life affect both gut microbiota and how fast the baby grows," they added.
Eggesbo and his team explained that a better knowledge of how the optimal composition of gut microbiota develops over time is a prerequisite for any successful manipulation of gut microbiota in this population.
The new study took faecal sample data from 218 infants when they were 4, 10, 30 and 120 days old.
By looking at faecal samples the team developed a method aimed to identify the points and periods in time where the detection of specific bacterial groups was associated with an infant's development.
The data showed that the detection of Bacteroides species at day 30 in males was significantly associated with reduced growth. In contrast the presence of E. coli species from four to 30 days after birth was observed to correspond with expected growth in both male and female infants.
Eggesbo and his colleagues mapped part of the infant gut microbiota using broad and unspecific probes only, thus the observed associations may be markers for other alterations in the gut microbiota composition.
However they noted that it is also possible that other factors early in life could give rise to such associations and the study may not have been large enough to adequately control for this.