Carbohydrates in Mother’s Milk Show Antimicrobial Activity

Mother's milk, which consists of a complex and continually changing blend of proteins, fats, and sugars, helps protect babies against bacterial infections. In the past, scientists have concentrated their search for the source of its antibacterial properties on the proteins it contains. However, an interdisciplinary team of chemists and doctors at Vanderbilt University has discovered that some of the carbohydrates in human milk not only possess antibacterial properties of their own, but also enhance the effectiveness of the antibacterial proteins also present. "This is the first example of generalized, antimicrobial activity on the part of the carbohydrates in human milk," said Assistant Professor of Chemistry Steven Townsend, who directed the study. "One of the remarkable properties of these compounds is that they are clearly non-toxic, unlike most antibiotics." The results were presented on August 20, 2017 at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in Washington, DC by doctoral student Dorothy Ackerman and published in the ACS Infectious Diseases journal on June 1, 2017 in a paper titled "Human Milk Oligosaccharides Exhibit Antimicrobial and Anti-Biofilm Properties Against Group B. Streptococcus."
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