Infant Microbiome Project
Oligosaccharides are the third most abundant solid component in human milk after lactose and lipids, yet these molecules are indigestible to the human infant because they lack the enzymes to break them down. Instead, oligosaccharides in milk deliver materials to resident gastrointestinal microbiota. The relationship of gastrointestinal bifidobacteria, particularly the Bifidobacterium infantis, their infant host, and milk provides a fascinating example of co-evolution. The aim of the Infant Microbiome Project is to determine how milk-derived oligosaccharides serve as prebiotics, promoting the growth and activity of beneficial colonic bacteria enriched in the gut of breastfed infants, and characterize the compositional and structural aspects of milk oligosaccharides through stages of lactation and as a function of genetics. The long-term goals of this project are to build functional assays for the development of new prebiotic products that mimic the health-promoting properties of oligosaccharides found in human milk.