SPLASH! milk science update: JULY 2013 Issue

This month’s issue brings news of recently discovered similarities between human milk and cow’s milk, a milk protein that battles cancer, the incredible diversity in lactation strategies, and the complicated transactions that occur with human milk sharing.

Surprise: Cow’s Milk Sugars Are Rather Like Human Ones!

Surprise: Cow's Milk Sugars Are Rather Like Human Ones!

Pick up any textbook that runs through the sugars in milk, and you will read that human milk is unusual. It contains more oligosaccharides (medium-length sugars) than the milk of other mammals, and, in particular, most of its oligosaccharides have some subunits of fucose, a small sugar. Farmyard mammals, in contrast, do not make oligos out of fucose. At least, that was the conventional wisdom. But the distinction is now invalid. Read More...

Milk Protein Kills Cancer Cells and Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria

Milk Protein Kills Cancer Cells and Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria

Wouldn’t it be great if there were a nontoxic cancer treatment that effectively killed tumor cells without causing any harm to healthy cells in the patient’s body? Or how about a chemical that could make antibiotics effective against bacterial strains that have become antibiotic resistant, such as pneumococci or MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus)? Solving just one of these tasks would be a medical miracle, and yet a team of American and Swedish researchers has shown that both are possible. Even more amazing is that the solution to these two seemingly disparate medical issues comes from the same molecule, a protein-lipid complex found in human breast milk called HAMLET (human alpha-lactalbumin made lethal to tumor cells). And unlike its Shakespearean namesake, the actions of milk-borne HAMLET are anything but tragic. Read More...

Mining Animal Biodiversity to Improve Dairy Outcomes

Mining Animal Biodiversity to Improve Dairy Outcomes

Dairy farmers everywhere would rejoice if scientists discovered a way to breed cows that continually produce milk. The answer to this biological riddle may lie in the study of other milk-producing animals. Weird animals produce milk with various lactation strategies. Some produce all of their milk in just a couple days while others produce milk over five years. Some produce copious amounts of milk for a couple days and then not again for several weeks. By comparing the lactation strategies of different animals, researchers can identify exciting new methods of milk production. Read More...

Human Milk Sharing: Evolutionary Insights and Modern Risks

Human Milk Sharing: Evolutionary Insights and Modern Risks

Allomaternal nursing, the practice of infants suckling from a female not their mother, takes many forms. This behavior is not unique to humans and is widespread among mammalian species. Allomaternal nursing is thought to increase the fitness of females and infants, which would be favored by natural selection, but little research effort is directed to the topic. More recently, modern technologies of plastic containers, cold storage, and rapid shipping have created opportunities for milk sharing and milk selling widely among women. Some researchers and clinicians consider this unregulated trade of human milk a cause for concern--especially the risk of disease and toxin transmission to developing babies. Before that, though, let’s consider allomaternal nursing through historical, cultural, and evolutionary perspectives. Read More...