Toddlers playing with toys

Hundreds of new species that belong to the skin microbiome in infants have been uncovered in a new study, with further research to investigate any link to allergic diseases.

The skin is the human body’s largest organ, which supports thousands of different microorganisms, most of which are harmless or beneficial to our health.

The research, a collaboration between Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) and the National Institute of Health in the US, has for the first time provided a comprehensive view of human skin microbiome diversity, function and transmission in early life. Previous studies have relied on samples from North American adults.

The paper findings, published in Genome Biology, are the first batch of results from the VITALITY Trial that is investigating whether taking a daily vitamin D drop over the first year of life could lead to a reduction in challenge-proven food allergy.

MCRI Professor Kirsten Perrett, the Trial’s Principal Investigator and Director of the Centre for Food Allergy Research, said the research had established an ‘atlas’ of the microbiome (bacteria, fungi and viruses) found on infant skin. The study mapped 1,029 species, using skin samples from 215 VITALITY Trial participants.

“We are excited to have advanced our knowledge about the skin microbiome of a previously underrepresented age group and population,” Professor Perrett said. “This provides us with an opportunity to now investigate whether changes in the microbiome may lead to food allergy and eczema.”

The findings also demonstrated that microbes were transmitted between mothers and infants, thanks to the Trial’s novel collection of pairing family samples together.

A previous MCRI-led study helped generate the hypothesis for the rise in food allergy, including environmental and modern life factors. Five main risk factors were identified known as the 5Ds: diet, dry skin, vitamin D, dogs (external environmental exposure) and dribble (internal gut microbiome).

Learn more about the VITALITY Trial, including the six-year follow-up.

Publication: Zeyang Shen, Lukian Robert, Milan Stolpman, You Che, Katrina J. Allen, Richard Saffery, Audrey Walsh, Angela Young, Jana Eckert, Clay Deming, Qiong Chen, Sean Conlan, Karen Laky, Jenny Min Li, Lindsay Chatman, Sara Saheb Kashaf, NISC Comparative Sequencing Program, VITALITY team, Heidi H. Kong, Pamela A. Frischmeyer‑Guerrerio, Kirsten P. Perrett, and Julia A. Segre. ‘A genome catalog of the early-life human skin microbiome,’ Genome Biology. 10.1186/s13059-023-03090-w


The trial was supported by MCRI Population Health Theme Funding, Epworth Foundation, Constantinou Foundation and the Angior Family Foundation.