Scientists from the University of California, Davis, have identified the compound in the milk that supplies this nourishment, and has shown that it can be obtained from cow's milk. This research suggests that cow's milk provide that compound as a prebiotic for infants.
‘Glycoproteins from milk contain multiple sugars, called oligosaccharides, which is the source of nourishment for B infantis in nursing infants’ gastrointestinal tracts.’
Professor David Mills said, "Mother's milk is the only food that co-evolved with humans to make us healthy. Mother's milk, itself, guides the development of neonates' gut microbiota, nourishing a very specific bacterial population that, in turn, provides nourishment and protects the child."
"Now we have identified the compound in the milk that supplies this nourishment, and has shown that it can be obtained from cow's milk."
Studies that have been conducted earlier by Prof Mills had shown that glycoproteins in milk were the source of nourishment and a type of bacterium found in babies' intestines -B infantis - produced an enzyme that could process the nutrient.
The new study Prof Mills identified that product of that process - oligosaccharides - were the food source for B infantis. The enzyme could break down glycoproteins not only from mother's milk, but also from cow's milk, releasing the oligosaccharides.
Prof Mills said, "The released oligosaccharides turned out to be an incredible substrate for B infantis' growth."
Getting the bioactive oligosaccharides into infant formula could improve it. "The amazing thing to me is how selective these released oligosaccharides are as a substrate for growth," said Mills.
The study was published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.