subject: development

Accounting for Lactase Mutants

Accounting for Lactase Mutants

Back in the 50s and 60s, work on lactose intolerance was often published under cringeworthy and blunt racial titles. A Nature article from 1969 sums it up with ‘Can Asians Digest Milk?’ It was also probably a subliminal non-accident that ‘lactose intolerance’—which is the typical condition for adult humans—became common parlance for a trait for which those with northern European ancestry are the real mutants. Many decades on, the genetic basis of the ability to digest lactose has been largely pinned down. As it turns out, there are different genetic reasons for the mutants’ lactose tolerance in the various populations that drink milk without intestinal incident, and the gene that confers mutant power in Europeans is only part of the story. That research history is discussed below, along with recent work that has extended the field’s reach beyond genetics. Investigations of the transcontinental basis of lactose tolerance are now providing insights into mankind’s cultural, as well as biological evolution. 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...

Infection-Fighting Formula

Infection-Fighting Formula

There is a plethora of ways in which the composition of infant formula differs from that of breast milk. For one, the latter has a far greater diversity of ingredients, which are still not exhaustively known. But there are also plenty of known constituents of breast milk that are absent from infant formula. One team of researchers is dedicated to figuring out the implications of adding one kind of missing ingredient in particular—milk fat globule membrane (MFGM)—on infants’ health and development. Recently, this group identified some benefits to infants’ abilities to cope with infections when the infant formula they consume contains this supplement [1]. Read More...

Breastfeeding and Vitamin D Deficiency

Breastfeeding and Vitamin D Deficiency

Breastfed babies get all the nourishment they need from their mother's milk—right? Almost. One nutrient they don't get enough of from breast milk is vitamin D, a hormone essential for babies' growth and health. Instead, infants rely on vitamin D transferred from their mother via the placenta during early pregnancy; vitamin D produced in the baby's skin after sun exposure; or vitamin D supplied via infant formula. Recently, it's become clear that vitamin D deficiency in pregnant women is widespread in many parts of the world (1). This means that many babies who are exclusively breastfed and also kept out of the sun— as recommended by health authorities—are lacking in vitamin D. To tackle this global health problem, a new study (2) calls for greater attention to the vitamin D levels in pregnant mothers and newborns. Read More...

Milk Protein in Diet Predicts Human Height

Milk Protein in Diet Predicts Human Height

The Dutch and Montenegrins are the tallest men in Europe, measuring in at an average height of just over six feet (1.83 m). Separated by nearly 2000 miles, what might these two countries have in common that explains their above-average stature? The results of a new study [1] suggest their height may have as much to do with what is on their dinner plate as what is in their DNA. Using data from 42 European nations, as well as the U.S., New Zealand, and Australia, Grasgruber et al. [1] found that the strongest predictor of male adult height was the population’s protein index - the amount of protein consumed from animal sources, such as dairy and pork, compared to proteins consumed from vegetable sources, such as wheat. If height is a marker for the health of a population, could the answer to improving health outcomes be as simple as dining like the Dutch? Read More...

Fats, Formula, and Brainy Babies

Fats, Formula, and Brainy Babies

Can infant formula be boosted to prevent formula-fed babies from missing out on the brain-stimulating ingredients of breast milk? Seeking to answer this important question, a new study found that a supplement of naturally occurring milk fats improved the brain development and certain cognitive abilities in newborn piglets. Read More...

Should Breastfeeding Mothers be Paid?

Should Breastfeeding Mothers be Paid?

Is offering vouchers to mothers, who are statistically unlikely to breastfeed, bribery—and thus a misuse of public funds—or is it smart public health policy? A pilot study in poorer areas in northern England are testing whether offering new mothers shopping vouchers helps increase breastfeeding rates. The results so far suggest that the scheme does achieve this aim. Opinion is divided, however, as to whether this would be a good use of public finances. Read More...

Building Better Options: Bovine Osteopontin in Infant Formulas

Building Better Options: Bovine Osteopontin in Infant Formulas

Cow’s milk, wheat flour, and sugar mixed together was the first recipe whipped up by Henri Nestlé’s in the mid-1800s marketed as “farine lactée.” However, infant feeding-practices have been widely variable historically and cross-culturally for thousands of years, if not longer (1). Infants have been fed combinations of animal milks, cereal grains, meat broths, juices, tea, and a diversity of supplemental culturally specific infant foods (1). More recently, improved research instruments and techniques have yielded new information, leading to the reformulation of commercial artificial breast milks. Infant formula now typically includes long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs) (2) and lactorferrin (3,4). Versions of formula that feature prebiotics and probiotics are also commonly available (5,6). Might bovine osteopontin be the next ingredient to be added to infant formulas? Read More...

Stop, Slow, & Go: Hormonal Signals from Mother’s Milk

Stop, Slow, & Go: Hormonal Signals from Mother's Milk

Hormones are not just for women! From babies to the elderly, both females and males have these chemical messengers circulating throughout their bodies. Astonishingly, milk contains hormones too. Read More...

Dairy’s Value for Samburu Children

Dairy’s Value for Samburu Children

Over the last several decades, environmental changes and political pressures have forced many pastoralist populations, such as the Samburu of Kenya, to abandon their nomadic herding lifestyle for one focused more on agriculture. In addition to becoming more sedentary, these populations have decreased their livestock holdings, and with that, their milk consumption. What does this dramatic shift in livelihood mean for the health of a population with such a long history of milk dependence? Read More...

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