The evolution of lactation and the composition, structures, and functions of milk's biopolymers illustrates that the Darwinian pressure on lactation selected for gene products with considerable structural complexity and diverse functions within the digestive system. For example, complex sugar polymers - oligosaccharides - possess unique properties in guiding the growth of intestinal bacteria that are not possible by feeding their simple sugars. The proteins of milk are diverse with some exhibiting enzymatic activities towards other milk components rendering those components both more digestible but also releasing biologically active products. Thus, research into milk's biopolymers has been most enlightening when milk was investigated for the formation and disassembly of its structures and for the functions within the infant. To date however, the most complex structure in mammalian milk, the fat globule, has not been effectively examined beyond its simple composition. The globules of milk are heterogeneous in size, composition, and function. With new research tools, scientists are beginning to understand the mechanisms that control the assembly of globules in the mammary gland and the disassembly within the infant.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This publication was made possible in part by support from National Institute on Health R01HD059127-03 and the Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment Study Grant P01 ES11269.
© 2019 Nestlé Nutrition Institute, Switzerland/S. Karger AG, Basel.