For babies, the trip from the womb to the outside world is a transition from a blank, sterile slate to host for what will eventually be trillions of microscopic organisms. Unfortunately, the demographics of a burgeoning microbial community can easily tip in favor of dangerous bacteria. “While that microbial environment in the gut is still developing, the introduction of one of many of the wrong kinds of bacteria may cause a severe immune response,” says biochemistry professor Douglas Weibel. “In an infant, the immune system could just ravage the intestines.” It’s
In rural Africa, the risk following infection can be even greater. Weibel will use a Grand Challenges Explorations grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to field a cheap and simple test for bacteria that cause necrotizing enterocolitis — a common and often deadly infection — in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda.