Babies’ diapers full — of more than you might guess

Babies’ diapers full — of more than you might guess

Babies are so delightful. Those tiny fingers, their sweet-smelling heads and their diapers, full of untold numbers of viruses, many of them previously unknown to scientists.

That’s right. Those crawling cuties sc ooting around on their diapered bottoms do so with more than 200 previously unknown viral families bouncing around in their intestines.

It’s been known that both viruses and bacteria coexist in our gastrointestinal tract, and that in the young, those “gut bacteria” help them fend off chronic disease later in life. Beyond that, the picture was hazy.

So, dedicated researchers from the University of Copenhagen dug right in. In the first effort of its kind, they spent five years closely examining the diapers of nearly 650 healthy Danish 1-year-olds.

They found much more than they bargained for. Inside the tiny tots’ feces, they found some 10,000 new virus species that represented more than 200 families of never-before-described viruses.

While most of us hear the word “virus” and recoil in disgust, our reaction isn’t really appropriate. Viruses can be good or bad. In fact, 90% of the viruses the researchers discovered during the Danish diaper study are bacterial viruses, known as bacteriophages [bacteriofayjez]. They aren’t harmful in the least.

As a scientific footnote, the Copenhagen scientists had some 232 previously unknown virus families to come up with scientific names for. So they named them after the babies whose diapers made their work possible.

Now, thanks to children like Sylvester and Tristan, we have the viral families Sylvesterviridae [Sylvesterveer-i-dee] and Tristanviridae [Tristanveer-i-dee].


Related Episodes