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BASF, UC-Davis Partner on Human Milk Sugars

Breastfeeding mother

(Badarsk, Pixabay)

26 July 2018. The global chemical company BASF and a research institute at University of California in Davis are investigating complex sugars found in human breast milk, and their role in maintaining healthy gut microbes. Financial and intellectual property details of the two-year agreement between BASF, based in Germany, and UC-Davis’s Foods for Health Institute were not disclosed.

The collaboration aims to learn more about complex carbohydrates called human milk oligosaccharides that researchers, including those at UC-Davis, highlight for their association with favorable health outcomes. Several faculty at Foods for Health Institute were on teams that in 2016 published papers in the journals Science and Cell showing relationships between the state of human milk oligosaccharides in mothers and the health of their babies. The findings indicate human milk oligosaccharides, largely indigestible milk molecules, help feed microbes that colonize the gastrointestinal tracts in infants.

BASF is developing a human milk oligosaccharide product 2’-fucosyllactose, fermented in its own labs that the company says helps develop healthy gut microbes and supports the immune system. In its research findings, says BASF, 2’-fucosyllactose is shown to stop inflammation of mucous membranes, and may play a role in protection against allergies and development of normal brain functions. Earlier in July, the company announced plans to produce and make 2’-fucosyllactose widely available by early next year.

The collaboration aims to develop and validate new types of human milk oligosaccharides as bioactive compounds with benefits going beyond the gastrointestinal tract. Faculty members Daniela Barile, David Mills, Helen Raybould, Xi Chen, and Bruce German from the Foods for Health Institute plan to study new applications for human milk oligosaccharides, or HMOs, with BASF providing their expertise on fermentation products and development of nutritional compounds, as well as funding for the project.

“This project will employ a range of microbiological and physiological studies,” says Barile in a BASF statement, “employing cutting-edge glycomics and metagenomics tools to explore how HMOs interact with the human host and the microbes within them.”

The collaboration with UC-Davis is part of BASF’s California Research Alliance that engages university labs in the state to study issues involving inorganic materials and biosciences. Researchers from UC campuses in Berkeley, Davis, Riverside, San Diego, and Santa Barbara take part, as well as Cal Tech and Stanford. Since the program began in 2014, it yielded 25 journal papers and 6 patent applications.

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