SPLASH! milk science update: June 2015

This month’s issue explores how a mother’s DNA alters the gut microbiome of her baby, lower vitamin D in children who avoid cow’s milk, the economics of breast milk banking, and predictions of a dairy cow’s performance using DNA.

Predicting Performance in Dairy Cows of the Future

Predicting Performance in Dairy Cows of the Future

Selective breeding of dairy cows is a major part of modern dairy farming. Farmers can select the bulls that they want to use to produce animals for their herd. One bull may sire thousands of daughter cows via highly developed systems for artificial insemination. The availability of lots of stored semen from bulls that have been shown to produce cows with excellent production and health traits has been a backbone of improving efficiency and production in dairy farms for several decades. There has been a continuous effort to build on the methods and procedures that contribute to selective breeding, most recently with the advent of genomic tools. Read More...

Mother’s DNA Alters Baby’s Gut Microbes

Mother's DNA Alters Baby's Gut Microbes

A mother’s genes determine a lot of things about her newborn, and it turns out that their effects extend even to the bacteria that colonize the baby’s gut. The establishment of a baby’s gut microbial community is an important event in a newborn’s life. A new study, conducted by microbial ecologist Zachary Lewis, finds that the gut microbiome of breastfed infants is influenced by the types of sugars present in breast milk [1, 2]. Specifically, a particular gene in mothers that modifies sugars in breast milk influences infants’ gut microbiome. Read More...

Milk Banking in the 21st Century

Milk Banking in the 21st Century

The Internet has facilitated many new arrangements in breast milk sharing. Without sterilization or pasteurization, breast milk can pass pathogens to infants, particularly if there is an opportunity for bacteria to grow during shipping. Modern human milk banks include both non-profit organizations and for-profit strategies. For-profit companies may increase the overall supply of human milk, but some argue that they create new problems.   When historians look back on the past 15 years, they will undoubtedly characterize the period through reference to widespread use of its defining technology: the Internet. Among its many benefits, the Internet is a perfect tool for aggregating many small scale and widely dispersed suppliers, and enabling buyers and sellers of obscure products to locate one another. It has therefore facilitated the exchange of human milk. From Craigslist postings to Facebook groups, individual altruism to cooperatives with exclusive sales agreements with private companies, the online exchange of milk now takes many forms. Elena Medo is the CEO of Medolac, one of the new for-profit human milk companies. She also founded (and left) the other main player, called Prolacta, and in doing so launched what she says was the first human milk website, where would-be donors could apply online, and those who passed initial screening then received house-calls for blood testing. Medolac sources all of its milk from a cooperative, but elsewhere in the tentacles of the Internet, it is perfectly possible for mothers to receive direct payment for milk based on peer-to-peer online exchange. This, of course, carries at least the potential risk of pathogen transfer, or that unscrupulous sellers might add cows milk or some other product to increase sales volumes. Some people, however—including the CEO of HMBANA (the Human Milk Banking Association of North America), John Honaman—are entirely against moneymaking out of breast milk, […] Read More...

Children Who Avoid Cow’s Milk May Fall Short of Vitamin D

Children Who Avoid Cow’s Milk May Fall Short of Vitamin D

Rickets and vitamin D deficiency do not sound like 21st century issues. Yet nearly 100 years since the connection between the two was first identified, the U.S., Canada, and numerous other countries are facing a potential epidemic of vitamin D deficiency among children (1). The reasons for the resurgence are much the same as they were in the past: limited sunlight exposure and poor dietary intake of this essential nutrient. Vitamin D-fortified milk helped bring an end to the rickets epidemic in the early 1900s, and it remains the best dietary source of vitamin D for children today. However, a growing number of children do not drink cow’s milk. A handful of studies have found that children who avoid cow’s milk due to allergy, intolerance, or dietary preference for alternative milk beverages are at a greater risk for vitamin D deficiency (2-4). When coupled with medical advice to avoid the sun, these findings could help explain the increasing prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in otherwise healthy children. While scurvy may have gone the way of the pirate, rickets is still a modern concern. Read More...