Bifidobacteria may help babies digest breast milk better
Posted 9 months ago by Jacob in General Health News
New research, carried out at the University of California, has revealed that specific strains of probiotic bacteria may help babies extract more nutrition from breast milk than previously understood.
Breast milk is amazingly intricate, not only does it provide nutrients essential to sustain infants in early life, it also provides antibodies which help to protect against infection. Breast milk has also been found to contain prebiotics called glycans which promote the growth of Bifidobacteria probiotics in a baby's gut. The Bifidobacteria breakdown and use the prebiotic glycans as a food source. However, until recently it was unknown whether these probiotics could also digest glycoproteins – a complex combination of glycans and protein which is abundant in breast milk.
The research team at the University of California found that specific strains of Bifidobacteria were able to express an enzyme which removed glycans from glycoproteins, enabling them to harvest an additional food source. They also found that although the Bifidobacteria do not use glycoproteins as a primary food source, they can grow and thrive when glycoproteins are the only food source.
This could be a hugely significant discovery for infants at risk of disease or malnutrition. Lead researcher, David A. Mills commented on his team’s findings; “One obvious goal of this research is to find ways to translate the benefits provided by milk and Bifidobacteria to at risk populations such as premature infants, malnourished children, among many others.”
Reference: Mills, D. A et al. (2012) Endo-β-N-acetylglucosaminidases from infant-gut associated bifidobacteria release complex N-glycans from human milk glycoproteins. Molecular & Cellular Proteomics.
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