Understanding of the vaginal microbiome in health and disease is essential to screen, detect and manage complications in pregnancy. One of the major complications of pregnancy is preterm birth, which is the leading world-wide cause of death and disability in children under five years of age. The aetiology of preterm birth is multifactorial, but a causal link has been established with infection. Despite the importance of understanding the vaginal microbiome in pregnancy in order to evaluate strategies to prevent and manage PTB, currently used culture based techniques provide limited information as not all pathogens are able to be cultured.

The implementation of culture-independent high-throughput techniques and bioinformatics tools are advancing our understanding of the vaginal microbiome. New methods employing 16S rRNA and metagenomics analyses make possible a more comprehensive description of the bacteria of the human microbiome. Several studies on the vaginal microbiota of pregnant women have identified a large number of taxa. Studies also suggest reduced diversity of the microbiota in pregnancy compared to non-pregnant women, with a relative enrichment of the overall abundance of Lactobacillus species, and significant differences in the diversity of Lactobacillus spp. A number of advantages and disadvantages of these techniques are discussed briefly.

The potential clinical importance of the new techniques is illustrated through recent reports where traditional culture-based techniques failed to identify pathogens in high risk complicated pregnancies whose presence subsequently was established using culture-independent, high-throughput analyses.


preterm birth, genital infections, vaginal microbiota, high-sequencing throughput, metagenomics, Lactobacillus