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Untangling human milk oligosaccharides and infant gut microbiome

Lookup NU author(s): Andrea Masi, Dr Christopher StewartORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


© 2021 The Author(s). The developing gut microbiome in infancy plays a key role in shaping the host immune system and metabolic state, and human milk is the main factor influencing its composition. Human milk does not only serve to feed the baby, but also to help the new-born adapt to its new environment and microbial exposures. Human milk protects the infant by providing multiple bioactive molecules, including human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs), which are the third most abundant solid component after lipids and lactose. The infant is unable to digest HMOs, so they reach the small and large intestines intact where they have many roles, including acting as prebiotics. Bifidobacterium spp. are the main, but not the only, commensals equipped with genes for HMO degradation. In this review we will outline the HMOs structures and functions, list the genes needed for their digestion, and describe the main strategies adopted by bacteria for their utilization.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Masi AC, Stewart CJ

Publication type: Review

Publication status: Published

Journal: iScience

Year: 2022

Volume: 25

Issue: 1

Print publication date: 21/01/2022

Online publication date: 01/12/2021

Acceptance date: 02/04/2018

ISSN (electronic): 2589-0042

Publisher: Elsevier Inc.


DOI: 10.1016/j.isci.2021.103542