Researchers led by Sharon Donovan of the University of Illinois examined the intestinal gene expression in the faecal sample of infants who were breast-fed and who were formula-fed. They found a difference in the RNA genetic make-up between breast-fed and fomula-fed infants.
Many of the differences found by the scientists were in fundamental genes that regulate the development of the intestine and provide immune defense for the infant.
Breast milk makes babies more responsive to feeding because of its bioactive components. This is important since an infant has to adapt to being fed outside the mother’s womb.
"An infant's gut has to adapt very quickly. A new baby is coming out of a sterile environment, having received all its nutrients intravenously through the placenta. At that point, babies obviously must begin eating, either mother's milk or formula.
"They also start to become colonized with bacteria, so it's very important that the gut learns what's good and what's bad. The baby's body needs to be able to recognize a bad bacteria or a bad virus and fight it, but it also needs to recognize that even though a food protein is foreign, that protein is okay and the body doesn't want to develop an immune response to it," she said.
If anything goes wrong at this stage, babies can develop food allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, and even asthma. "We're very interested in frequent sampling at this early period of development," she added.
Understanding those differences should help formula makers develop a product that is more like the real thing.
This is a study is funded by Mead Johnson Nutrition.
Journal ReferenceR. S. Chapkin, C. Zhao, I. Ivanov, L. A. Davidson, J. S. Goldsby, J. R. Lupton, R. A. Mathai, M. H. Monaco, D. Rai, W. M. Russell, S. M. Donovan, E. R. Dougherty. Noninvasive stool-based detection of infant gastrointestinal development using gene expression profiles from exfoliated epithelial cells. Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol, 2010; 298 (5): G582