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Milk and Lactation

Milk is the complete food for infants, thanks to millions of years of natural selection on mammalian lactation.  Through the process bioreactor that is lactation, milk provides complete nourishment and protection for infants’ health. This principle of a complete food delivered as a complex mixture of molecules is used throughout the Milk and Lactation projects at the FFHI.

Evolution has selected for energy intensive, high diversity class of molecules - oligosaccharides and glycans.These are largely indigestible to the human infant and this raised the question, what is their functional purpose? Researchers have discovered that these oligosaccharides instead act as a food source for the intestinal microbiota that colonizes the gastrointestinal tract. Investigations in human milk have revealed the specific composition and structures of these compounds and established their function as a selective food source for specific beneficial bacterial species, including Bifidobacteria. These oligosaccharides and glycans work to feed the intestinal microbiome of the infant and now we are able to identify that there is such a thing as a Milk-Oriented Microbiome (MOM) that results from exclusive breastfeeding. We believe this is what is an important component of the multiple studies that say breastfeeding is important.

Oligosaccharides and Glycans

Oligosaccharides are complex sugars composed of a variable number of monosaccharide – or single sugar – units and are among the most biologically diverse and important carbohydrates in biological systems. The aim of our work on milk oligosaccharides is to identify and chemically characterize the numerous oligosaccharides present in various mammalian milks, especially human milk. The use of advanced Mass Spectrometry has already allowed the identification of hundreds of oligosaccharides in human milk. Functional studies have shown that these molecules are able to act as prebiotics, encouraging the growth of a protective microbiota, and also act as decoys that inhibit the binding of pathogenic microbes to intestinal cells.

Glycans, or complex sugar structures, on human intestinal cell surfaces are important recognition sites for pathogenic bacteria that initiate infection. Free milk oligosaccharides, as well as glycans that are part of glycolipids, have been shown to inhibit pathogenic bacterial binding to the human intestinal surface and to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria

Proteins and Peptides

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