How lactation can decode life science’s great challenges

Bruce German, Foods for Health Institute and Dept. of Food Science and Technology,
University of California, Davis, USA

The life sciences are turning to the 21st century’s challenges and opportunities: how to feed 10 billion people, how to produce that food sustainably, how to prevent disease and how to enhance human performance through a century-long lifespan. Lactation, the genetic secret to success of mammalia, has also wrestled with such challenges for hundreds of millions of years.

Research and its translation to commercial practice can use the principles learned under this relentless selective pressure of evolution. The IMGC has been guided by lactation as the Rosetta Stone for the genetics of diet and nourishment for good reasons. Lactation is not a simple recipe, it is an encoded dictionary and encyclopedia. Both the ‘words’ and the ‘deeds’ of nourishment are intrinsic to the subset of mammalian genomes dedicated to lactation. Milk is far more than just a complete and comprehensive diet and is an inspiring two-way dialog between a mammalian mother and her infant. Decoding this remarkable system of nourishment, protection and performance will need all of the tools of modern science from genomics to molecular anthropology, chemistry to social behavior. The collaborative model of the IMGC is a vivid example of how scientists from multi-disciplines, geographies and backgrounds can unify around a common theme: how does milk nourish babies?

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