The International Milk Genomics Consortium (IMGC) is the world’s signature organization that for 20 years has been linking scientific research on lactation and milk to the applications of that research to the health of babies to adults. IMGC will hold its 17th annual conference from October–13-16, 2020 in a lively, engaging, and interactive virtual format. The conference will bring together a multidisciplinary field of experts from all over the world to discuss their scientific research on milk and human health. i
Recommendations from both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to breastfeed exclusively for the first 6 months of life were developed to optimize infant health. But new research suggests the mother’s health may benefit from following these breastfeeding guidelines as well.
The idea of using probiotics in place of antibiotics was born in the dairy industry. In recent years, however, as multidrug resistance has become more commonplace among strains of bacteria that cause mastitis in breastfeeding women, probiotics have become known as a potential treatment alternative. Evidence that they work has been gathering. But until recently no study had evaluated one easily available source of probiotics—fermented foods such as kefir—alongside mastitis’ common risk factors. Based on interviews about fermented food-product consumption with more than 600 Turkish women, a new study finds that both the frequency with which mothers consume these foodstuffs, and the diversity of the products that they consume, are associated with lower odds of developing mastitis.
Milk is big business in California. It’s the agricultural product that brings in more farm revenue than any other in the state. It employs about 190,000 workers, and involves 1.78 million cows. Indeed, dairy has been important to California’s economy for decades, and over time innovations in animal husbandry, feeding and in growing crops that dairy cows eat have led to substantial changes in greenhouse gas emissions. Recently, Ermias Kebreab and his colleagues at the University of California, Davis, calculated exactly how much these emissions have changed in the 50 years from 1964 to 2014. Although the total emissions from the state’s dairy industry increased over that period, the state also produced much more milk, and the industry has become more efficient in terms of its emissions.
The nearly 100 trillion bacteria that live in our gastrointestinal tract aren’t just involved in food digestion; they influence the health and function of the entire body. Mounting evidence suggests gut microbes may even influence the brain, including behavior. This connection between the gut and the brain is called the gut-brain axis and is a complex network of signaling pathways linking the central nervous system with the enteric (or gastrointestinal) nervous system.
Cows are one of our major domestic animals, with about 1.4 billion domesticated cattle being raised for meat and dairy all over the world. Humans have long drawn from the existing genetic variation in cattle populations to select a variety of breeds with useful traits. The sequencing of the cattle genome enhanced the selection of cattle by allowing the use of genomic tools to select traits.
The human gut microbiome is known to contain a large number of both bacteria and viruses. Viruses are absent from the infant gut at birth but colonize shortly after and can sometimes lead to gastrointestinal disorder. By one month of age, infants can have about a billion viruses per gram of stool, which is similar to the number of viruses present in older children and adults. But there is still a lot researchers don’t know about how viruses colonize the early infant gut to form the virus microbiome, known as the virome.
Over the last six months, scientists all over the world have put their planned research programs on hold and pivoted to study SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2). Milk researchers are no exception. Milk from mothers that have COVID-19, the illness caused by SARS-CoV-2, could be a source of antibodies directed against the virus. Like convalescent plasma (i.e., blood from recovered COVID-19 patients), these maternally-derived antibodies offer potential as a therapeutic to help severely ill patients. But human milk could also contain RNA from SARS-CoV-2, and possibly even infectious viral material. Telling infected mothers to stop nursing “just in case” is not an option, particularly in populations without access to human milk alternatives. There is urgency in identifying both therapeutics to help those with the most severe infections and to establish informed public health policy for nursing mothers that are COVID-19 positive. The vast number of investigators tackling these questions across institutions and countries offers promise that answers will soon be available.
Humans have many unique attributes, as does the family of species within which humans evolved—the hominids. About 15 years ago, geneticists added to the list of hominid-unique attributes by noting that species within this family have a gene called HCA3 that other mammals lack. Now a group of researchers from Leipzig, Germany has figured out what this gene does and why it was preserved by natural selection. Their evidence suggests that HCA3 blessed the hominids with the ability to eat many bacteria-riddled foods without getting sick. These include some foods that played important roles in the story of human evolution, such as fermented milk products.
Malaria still accounts for approximately 435,000 deaths each year, and the substantial majority of these deaths—some 61%—are children under five years of age. Governments of affected countries, international aid organizations and foreign donors put in place various safeguards to reduce the disease rate, including mosquito nets and preventative malaria medicine for children. Yet the World Health Organization bemoans a lack of funding in this space. In 2017, for example, 15.7 million children in the Sahel region in Africa received seasonal malaria prophylaxis, but the paucity of program funding meant that 13.6 million children who could have benefited missed out.