Background: An obvious difference between breast-fed and formula-fed newborn infants is the development of the intestinal flora, considered to be of importance for protection against harmful micro-organisms and for the maturation of the intestinal immune system. In this study, novel molecular identification methods were used to verify the data obtained by traditional culture methods and to validate the culture independent fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH) technique.
Methods: From each of six breast-fed and six formula-fed newborn infants, six fecal samples were obtained during the first 20 days of life. The microbial compositions of the samples were analyzed by culturing on specific media and by FISH, by using specific 16S rRNA-targeted oligonucleotide probes. The colonies growing on the media were identified by random amplified polymorphic DNA pattern analysis and by polymerase chain reaction amplification and subsequent analysis of the 16S rRNA gene.
Results: Molecular identification of the colonies showed that the selective media are insufficiently selective and unsuitable for quantitative analyses. Qualitative information from the culturing results combined with the data obtained by the FISH technique revealed initial colonization in all infants of a complex (adult-like) flora. After this initial colonization, a selection of bacterial strains began in all infants, in which Bifidobacterium strains played an important role. In all breast-fed infants, bifidobacteria become dominant, whereas in most formula-fed infants similar amounts of Bacteroides and bifidobacteria (∼40%) were found. The minor components of the fecal samples from breast-fed infants were mainly lactobacilli and streptococci; samples from formula-fed infants often contained staphylococci, Escherichia coli, and clostridia.
Conclusions: This study confirms the differences in development of intestinal flora between breast-fed and formula-fed infants. The results obtained from the FISH technique were consistent. Although the repertoire of probes for this study was not yet complete, the FISH technique will probably become the method of reference for future studies designed to develop breast-fed–like intestinal flora in formula-fed infants.