The Microbiome in Early Life: Self-Completion and Microbiota Protection as Health Priorities


  • Rodney R. Dietert

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York
    • Correspondence to: Rodney R. Dietert, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853. E-mail:

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This minireview considers the benefits of refocusing attention away from treating the patient as a mammalian human to managing the complete patient: a majority microbial superorganism. Under the “completed self” model for formation of the human-microbial superorganism, the single, most pivotal sign in distinguishing a life course of health versus that filled with disease is self-completion (i.e., seeding of the minority mammalian human by the majority microbial portion of the symbiont). From a disease prevention perspective, microbial seeding at birth and subsequent nurturing of the microbiota are significant steps to reduce the risk of both noncommunicable diseases (e.g., type 1 diabetes) and certain infectious diseases. Management of the microbiome during pregnancy, birth, and shortly thereafter appears to be the most significant critical window for healthy superorganism formation. However, the bolus for microbiota seeding at birth and the nurturing process are subject to environmental influences and disruption, such as exposure to toxic chemicals and drugs, infections, and other physical and psychological stressors. Additionally, childhood and adult corrective measures, such as fecal transplantation and administration of prebiotics and probiotics, while potentially useful, may have limitations that are yet to be fully defined. This minireview considers (1) basic features of management of the microbiome to facilitate self-completion, (2) protection of the microbiota from environmental hazards, and (3) the benefits of using a superorganism focus for health management beginning with pregnancy and extending throughout childhood and adult life