Breastfeeding is associated with a healthy infant gut

April 30, 2012

Early colonization of the gut by microbes in infants is critical for development of their intestinal tract and in immune development. A new study, published in BioMed Central's open access journal Genome Biology, shows that differences in bacterial colonization of formula-fed and breast-fed babies leads to changes in the infant's expression of genes involved in the immune system, and in defense against pathogens.

The health of individuals can be influenced by the diversity of colonizing the gut, and microbial colonization can be especially important in regulating both intestinal and immune development in infants. However, little is known about the potential interactions between the host's health at a molecular level, their gut microbes, and diet.

The human intestine is lined by epithelial cells that process nutrients and provide the first line of defense against food antigens and pathogens. Approximately one-sixth of are shed every day into feces, providing a non-invasive picture of what is going on inside the gut.

In this study, the authors used transcriptome analysis to compare the intestines of three month old exclusively breast-fed or formula-fed infants, and relate this to their gut microbes. Transcriptome analysis looks at the small percentage of the genetic code that is transcribed into and is a measure of what genes are actively making proteins. Concurrently the microbes (microbiome) were identified by .

The results showed that the breast-fed babies had a wider range of microbes in their gut than the formula-fed infants but that their immune systems had developed to cope.

Robert Chapkin from the Texas A&M University, who led this multi-centre study, explained, "While we found that the microbiome of breast-fed infants is significantly enriched in genes associated with 'virulence', including resistance to antibiotics and toxic compounds, we also found a correlation between bacterial pathogenicity and the expression of host genes associated with immune and defense mechanisms."

He continued, "Our findings suggest that human milk promotes the beneficial crosstalk between the immune system and microbe population in the gut, and maintains intestinal stability."

Explore further: New infant formula ingredients boost babies' immunity by feeding their gut bacteria

Related Stories

Recommended for you

An accessible approach to making a mini-brain

October 1, 2015

If you need a working miniature brain—say for drug testing, to test neural tissue transplants, or to experiment with how stem cells work—a new paper describes how to build one with what the Brown University authors say ...

Tension helps heart cells develop normally in the lab

October 1, 2015

The heart is never quite at rest, and it turns out that even in a lab heart cells need a little of that tension. Without something to pull against, heart cells grown from stem cells in a lab dish fail to develop normally.

Dormant viral genes may awaken to cause ALS

September 30, 2015

Scientists at the National Institutes of Health discovered that reactivation of ancient viral genes embedded in the human genome may cause the destruction of neurons in some forms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.