Professor, Robert Mondavi Institute of Wine and Food Science Department of Viticulture and Enology
- B.S. University of Wisconsin-Madison
- M.S. in Biochemistry, University of Minnesota
- Ph.D. in Microbiology, University of Minnesota
Dr. Mills research centers on the microbial ecology and genomics the lactic acid bacteria (LAB) and bifidobacteria. A general goal is to investigate linkage between genome content, ecological context,and specific strain behavior that enables a more comprehensive understanding of LAB biology in their “working” environments.
Dr. Mills is interested in the specific effects of substrates such as oligosaccharides on the growth of beneficial microbes, specifically bifidobacteria, in the gastrointestinal tract. Work in the lab also explores the establishment of microbiota in the infant gut. During breast-feeding, Bifidobacterium sp. are often enriched in the infant gastrointestinal tract. It has been proposed that human milk oligosaccharides, a major component of breast milk, are responsible for this enrichment. Prebiotics are defined as polymers of simple sugars called oligosaccharides that are non-digestible by humans but that beneficially affect the host by selectively stimulating the growth and/or activity of one or a limited number of bacteria in the colon, and thus improve host health.
Work in the lab includes the identification and characterization of the microbiota of the infant gut, the profiling of bacterial consumption of individual human milk oligosaccharide species, and the genetic characterization of key genes involved in human milk oligosaccharide metabolism by bifidobacteria. Our goal is to understand the molecular basis for growth on human milk oligosaccharides and examine the role B. infantis plays in the initial colonization of the infant gut. A fuller understanding of the basis for domination of the breast-fed infant gut by bifidobacteria will lead to new strategies for treatment of premature infants as well as provide a model for study of the interactions between food, the gut microbiota and the intestine.