My 14-year-old daughter would be horrified to hear this, but at one point in her life, my husband and I had long conversations about her poop. When she was first born and we were catapulted into the world of parenthood, we were fascinated by everything that our new baby did. At the time, that was limited to eating, sleeping and lots and lots of pooping. We marveled over the contents of her diaper — namely its size, color and smell. But little did we know how much information that baby poop actually contained.

According to researchers from the University of North Carolina's School of Medicine, the bacteria present in baby poop can tell a lot about their future cognitive development. In a study spearheaded by Dr. Rebecca Knickmeyer, an associate professor of psychiatry, the researchers analyzed the bacteria colonies found in fecal samples from 89 generally healthy 1-year-old babies. They sorted the samples into three groups based on similarities in their microbial communities. One year later, when the babies were 2, they assessed each baby's cognitive development using the Mullen Scales of Early Learning, a series of tests that examine perception, language development, and fine and gross motor skills.

Knickmeyer and her team found that one type of bacteria in particular, called Bacteroides, was associated with higher levels of cognitive performance. It's unclear why this would be the case. Do these certain types of bacteria communicate with the brain in some way to boost development? That's what researchers are hoping to find out.

Surprisingly, the study also found that babies with high levels of microbial diversity in their guts performed worse on the tests than babies with lower levels of diversity. This is contradictory to research that has found that more microbial diversity equals better health, particularly when it comes to the development of conditions such as asthma or Type 1 diabetes.

"Our work suggests that an 'optimal' microbiome for cognitive and psychiatric outcomes may be different than an 'optimal' microbiome for other outcomes," said Knickmeyer in a statement. The study was published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

That's a fairly critical point to keep in mind, especially as researchers point to studies like this one to suggest that altering a baby's microbial community could lead to a better outcome in the future. But without a clear understanding of the role that each microbe plays in a person's overall health, it may be a bit premature to consider tinkering with a baby's poop, no matter how fascinating that poop might be.

The contents of your baby's diaper may give clues to how smart she'll be
Scientists found gut microbes in a baby's diaper that may be linked to higher levels of cognitive function.