UC Davis Food Science & Technology

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Department Research in New York Times

August 3, 2010- A team of faculty researchers has identified a bacterium commonly found in breast-fed infants, Bifidobacterium longum, as instrumental to post-natal intestinal health. The New York Times’ Nicholas Wade reports.

A New York Times article details work performed by Drs. Bruce German, David Mills, Carlito Lebrilla on the interaction between a bacterium commonly found in breast-fed infant feces and the infants’ health. Their work shows that Bifidobacterium longum coats the intestinal lining of newborn infants, protecting them from attacks by harmful pathogens. The bacterium digests a form of lactose bound to complex sugars, rendering it indigestible for the newborn. In his discussion of the research, Dr. Bruce German notes “mothers are recruiting another life-form to baby-sit their baby.” This link aids the newborn by contributing to its protection against other, harmful bacteria. Newborns lack the strong immune systems and acidic stomach environments that protect adults from attacks.

The researchers next plan to test complex sugars for the benefits they provide to premature infants and the elderly.