Most mothers are aware that breast milk helps boost their baby’s immune levels, but up to now it has been thought that it is mainly because of the mother’s antibodies found in human milk.
New preliminary research suggests that complex protein/sugar structures within human breast milk may bind to harmful bacteria in a baby’s gut, allowing it to then be flushed out. If this is the case, it may soon be possible to synthesise these structures and add them to cow’s milk or formula so that mothers who are unable to breastfeed – due to malnourishment, for example – can ensure their babies are still well protected against disease.
Professor Nicki Packer of the Biomolecular Frontiers research group at Macquarie University believes this defence may have evolved in humans but not cows because of our different physiology – after all, cows have four stomachs and only eat grass!
For more information: Biomolecular Frontiers research group at Macquarie University,
Prof. Nicki Packer, Tel: + 61 2 9850 8176,