Feb. 22 2016 11:28 AM

It's as important in human nutrition as it is in dairy cows.

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As dairy producers and industry people, we spend a lot of time worrying about the tiny bugs located in our cows' digestive tracts. We focus on supplying nutrients that are readily available and useful to these microbes in order to keep our cows healthy and producing high quality milk.

In the same way, human nutritionists focus on meeting the needs of human gut microbes to encourage healthy growth, development and maintenance of the human body. This is especially important to individuals and scientists working for and in geographical areas that struggle with malnutrition. Even with years of dedication to studies focusing on these needs, malnutrition still accounts for 3.1 million children's deaths globally and robs even more of physical and intellectual potential.

Dairy has played an important role in meeting these needs for many years, but scientist are digging deeper into exact gut microbes and have found dairy sugars have untapped potential.

Feeding the human gut bugs was a recent focus for researchers looking to curb the huge concern of human malnutrition by utilizing milk sugars, specifically oligosaccharides derived from whey, to help develop the human gut and nourish the microbes there that tend to suffer the most in undernourished children. The researchers used mice and piglets whose microbial gut population had been replaced by human gut microbes, both healthy human microbes and those representing malnourished children. They found feeding a diet that was supplemented with oligosaccharides derived from cow's milk led to improvement in factors associated with growth and health.

While this adds to previous studies and knowledge indicating the importance of many nutrients supplied in dairy for the healthy development of children, the number of malnourished and undernourished children describe a great need still to be met in the developing world. Researchers hope their recent findings can be developed into more focused milk sugar supplements readily available for those in greatest need.
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The author is an associate editor. She covers feeding, milk quality, youth activities and heads up the World Dairy Expo Supplement. Maggie was raised on a 150-cow dairy near Valley Center, Kansas, and graduated from Kansas State University with degrees in agricultural communications and animal sciences.