Sugars found in mother’s milk that kill dangerous bacteria

Sugars found in mother's milk that kill dangerous bacteria

Biochemists from the U.S. have found that breastfeeding women’s milk contains molecules of sugars that can neutralize dangerous strains of streptococcus and other microbes that cause severe infections in newborns. The press office of the American Chemical Society (ACS) reported this on Sunday.

“These sugars have been around as long as our species, yet bacteria have not yet become resistant to their effects. If we can understand how these substances work, then we can create new drugs based on these sugars, suitable for use as a substitute for antibiotics,” said Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville (USA) Stephen Townsend, whose words cited by the press service of ACS.

Over the past decade, biologists and chemists have begun to actively study how cow’s and mother’s milk affect the body of children and adults. Their research has shown that milk contains various enzymes that help the body fight germs, inflammation, and also plays an important role in the formation of gut microflora in newborn babies.

A large proportion of these beneficial substances are lost when processing milk or preparing powdered infant formula. WHO experts estimate that several hundred thousand babies die in the first days and months of their lives because some women refuse to breastfeed their babies in the first six months after birth.

Useful sugars
Townsend and his colleagues have been studying the beneficial properties of mother’s milk for years. They recently discovered that it contains a set of oligosaccharides, complex sugary molecules that can kill certain types of pathogenic bacteria. These include strains of Streptococcus that cause life-threatening infections in newborn babies and their mothers.

When scientists discovered these molecules, they wondered whether these sugars could suppress bacterial infections in cell cultures and in several pregnant mice. As subsequent observations and experiments showed, the oligosaccharides suppressed microbial growth and the formation of bacterial films in the cell cultures and prevented the development of severe infections in the females and their future offspring.

The exact mechanisms of these sugars remain a mystery to chemists, but Townsend and his colleagues suggest that they prevent dangerous bacteria from attaching to human body tissues and accelerate the growth of beneficial members of the microflora that compete for resources with streptococcus and other pathogens.

In the near future, biochemists plan to study the entire set of two hundred oligosaccharides present in mother’s milk and isolate those that are most effective against microbes. This will allow them to study in detail the mechanisms of their work and understand how they can be adapted to create new drugs that can replace antibiotics, the scientists summarized.

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