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Human milk contains a high concentration of diverse soluble oligosaccharides, carbohydratepolymers formed from a small number of monosaccharides. Novel methods combiningliquid chromatography with high resolution mass spectrometry have identifiedapproximately 200 unique oligosaccharides structures varying from 3 to 22 sugars. Theincreasing complexity of oligosaccharides follows the general pattern of mammalian evolutionthough the concentration and diversity of these structures in homo sapiens arestrikingly. There is also diversity among human mothers in oligosaccharides. Milks fromrandomly selected mothers contain as few as 23 and as many as 130 different oligosaccharides.The functional implications of this diversity are not known. Despite the role ofmilk to serve as a sole nutrient source for mammalian infants, the oligosaccharides in milkare not digestible by human infants. This apparent paradox raises questions about thefunctions of these oligosaccharides and how their diverse molecular structures affecttheir functions. The nutritional function most attributed to milk oligosaccharides is toserve as prebiotics - a form of indigestible carbohydrate that is selectively fermented bydesirable gut microflora. This function was tested by purifying human milk oligosaccharidesand providing these as the sole carbon source to various intestinal bacteria. Indeed,the selectively of providing the complex mixture of oligosaccharides pooled from humanmilk samples is remarkable. Among a variety of Bifidobacteria tested only Bifidobacterialongum biovar infantis was able to grow extensively on human milk oligosaccharides assole carbon source. The genomic sequence of this strain revealed approximately 700genes that are unique to infantis, including a variety of co-regulated glycosidases, relativeto other Bifidobacteria, implying a co-evolution of human milk oligosaccharides and thegenetic capability of select intestinal bacteria to utilize them. The goal of ongoingresearch is to assign specific functions to the combined oligosaccharide-bacteria-hostinteractions that emerged from this evolutionary pressure.

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Subject: Personalized Nutrition for the Diverse Needs of Infants and Children62nd Nestlé Nutrition Workshop, Pediatric Program, Helsinki, September 2007 > 205 - 222: Human Milk Oligosaccharides: Evolution, Structures and Bioselectivity as Substrates for Intestinal Bacteria

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