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Press Release
Bacteria help infants digest milk more effectively than adults
Monday, November 22, 2010

Bacteria (Credit: NIAID)
Infants are more efficient at digesting and utilizing nutritional components of milk than adults due to a difference in the strains of bacteria that dominate their digestive tracts. Researchers from the University of California, Davis, and Utah State University report on genomic analysis of these strains in the November 2010 issue of the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology identifying the genes that are most likely responsible for this difference.

"Human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) are the third-largest solid component of milk. Their structural complexity renders them non-digestible to the host," say the researchers. "Bifidobacterium longum strains often predominate the colonic microbiota of exlusively breast-fed infants. Among the three recognized subspecies, B. longum subsp. infantis achieves high levels of cell growth on HMOs and is associated with early colonization of the infant gut."

In the study the researchers used whole-genome microarray comparisons to associate genotypic biomarkers among 15 B. longum strains exhibiting various HMO utilization patterns. They identified 5 distinct gene clusters on B. longum that were conserved (showed little or no variation) across all strains capable of growth on HMOs and have also diverged in strains incapable of growing on HMOs.

The results of this study suggest that B. longum has at least 2 distinct subspecies: B. longum subsp. infantis, adapted to ultilize milk carbon and found primarily in the digestive tract of children, and B. longum subsp. longum, specialized for plant-derived carbon metabolism and associated with the adult digestive tract.

"Although early gut colonization is likely dependent on a multitude of dietary and nondietary factors, the delivery of complex oligosaccharides through milk creates an ideal and unique nutrient niche for the establishment of, and colonization by, B. longum subsp. infantis strains," say the researchers. "During weaning, a gradual transitioning from milk-based to plant-based diets generates a shift in carbon availability in the gastrintestinal tract favorable for the expansion and formtion of an adult-like gastointestinal tract microbiota."


American Society for Microbiology:

Thanks to American Society for Microbiology for this article.

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Mon, Nov 22, 2010, 3:53 pm CST

I wonder if this could lead to a treatment for lactose intolerance. Ah, to be able to eat cheesecake or whipped cream...

Genomic Repairman
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Mon, Nov 22, 2010, 4:32 pm CST

You thinking you would intake the bacteria in some type of yogurt like Activia?

Brian Krueger, PhD
Columbia University Medical Center
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Mon, Nov 22, 2010, 6:37 pm CST

I see $$ if that's the case, GR.


Guest Comment
Mon, Nov 22, 2010, 8:36 pm CST

No, I doubt this would have any applicability for lactose intolerance.  These bacteria don't break down lactose, they break down HMOs.  Lactose is broken down by the lactase enzyme produced by humans with lactose tolerance.  Also, it sounds like from this article, these bacteria are absent from all adults, not just lactose-intolerant adults.

Thomas Joseph
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Tue, Nov 23, 2010, 2:30 pm CST

Probiotics could certainly be a serious consideration.


I'd have to look into it, but a deep 16S project (IIRC) looked at an infants vs. adults intestinal flora and determined that it took approximately a year for them to begin to look similar.

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