Keeping it in the family – new study into how we share the best of our microbiomes with family members

18 October 2023
A family gathers round a kitchen table with food spread out

Scientists on the Norwich Research Park are looking to recruit family members, and their microbiomes, to a study into how we share microbes between us.

The PEARL-AGE Study at the Quadram Institute and Earlham Institute is looking for families with as many members as possible to take part, to understand which microbes can be shared among family members and how these might affect health.

Each of us houses a community of trillions of microbes in our gut, called the gut microbiome. Our microbiome is crucial to health from the very earliest stages of life. Beneficial microbes keep us healthy by helping to digest food, fighting off infections, and programming our immune system.  

We’re colonised by microbes as soon as we’re born, so usually our microbiome initially comes from our mother, close family and the home environment. Anything that affects successful microbiome establishment can have knock-on effects on health in later life.  

The PEARL-AGE Study will look at the similarities and differences in the microbiomes of family members.  

How does a parent’s microbiome differ from their child’s? What are the similarities in the microbiomes of siblings? Can we still see microbial signatures of grandparents in their grandchildren? Do we share microbes with family members living in different homes?

The researchers hope that the data they collect from families in the PEARL-AGE study will help them understand how families share the best of their microbiomes to maintain health. It will provide new information about how a healthy microbiome establishes in early life, and how it is maintained as we age. This could lead to ways that we can change our microbes to ensure everyone can benefit from a healthy microbiome throughout their life.

The study is open to families living in England with at least three generations who consent to take part. Families include spouse/partner, parents of spouse/partner, grandparents, grandparents of the spouse/partner, children/step-children, their partners, grandchildren and great-grand-children.

After an online or in-person appointment to explain the study, and formally give consent to take part, participants are asked to collect two faecal samples 12 months apart, from which the researchers will collect samples of their gut microbiomes. Participants also fill in a questionnaire about their lifestyle and dietary preferences, as well as family closeness, to learn about microbial transfer in families.

The study is being led by Dr Ezgi Özkurt working with other researchers in Dr Falk Hildebrand’s research group, based in the Quadram Institute and Earlham Institute, as well as research nurses from the NIHR Clinical Research Facility. This facility is managed by the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH). The study has been reviewed by Yorkshire & The Humber - South Yorkshire Research Ethics Committee (REC) to protect the safety, rights, wellbeing and dignity of participants and to ensure it is run ethically.

To find out more about taking part in the PEARL-AGE Study, please visit: 

Notes to editors.

About the Earlham Institute

The Earlham Institute is a hub of life science research, training, and innovation focused on understanding the natural world through the lens of genomics.

Embracing the full breadth of life on Earth, our scientists specialise in developing and testing the latest tools and approaches needed to decode living systems and make predictions about biology.

The Earlham Institute is based within the Norwich Research Park and is one of eight institutes that receive strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), part of UKRI, as well as support from other research funders.

@EarlhamInst  /  Earlham Institute


About the Quadram Institute

The Quadram Institute is an interdisciplinary research centre at the forefront of a new era of food and health research. It brings together researchers and clinicians under one roof and houses one of Europe’s largest endoscopy units and a clinical research facility.

Based on the Norwich Research Park, The Quadram Institute is a partnership between Quadram Institute Bioscience, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, the University of East Anglia and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Its mission is to deliver healthier lives through innovation in gut health, microbiology and food and its vision is to understand how food and microbes interact to promote health and prevent disease.