At least 146 genes affected by BF/FF

iVillage Member
Registered: 07-11-2006
At least 146 genes affected by BF/FF
8
Tue, 01-29-2013 - 12:58pm

Researchers have shown that an infant's first food affects his or her gene expression, giving a possible mechanism for how breast milk impacts health. (Gene expression is the process by which instructions in a gene are used to synthesize a functional gene product, mostly proteins. When genes are expressed, it is as if they are "turned on.")

"Genes are really sensitive to nutrition," said study researcher Sharon Donovan of the University of Illinois. "And we now have genes that may explain many of the clinical observations of how breast-fed and formula-fed infants differ."

Using a novel noninvasive technique, researchers compared 10 formula-fed 3-month-olds with 12 breast-fed infants of the same age. Capitalizing on the natural sloughing off of intestinal cells during digestion, the researchers looked for signs of gene expression, in the form of messenger RNA, in the babies' poop.

Breast milk and formula have different effects on at least 146 genes, the researchers found.

Most of the genes enhanced by breast milk promote quick development of the intestine and immune system, Donovan told LiveScience.

http://www.livescience.com/6498-breast-milk-dna-good.html

Community Leader
Registered: 10-01-2010
Wed, 01-30-2013 - 9:45am

This stuff is fascinating!

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-16-2010
Thu, 01-31-2013 - 6:35pm

Interesting, but 22 babies?  I wonder how much of it will hold up (or has held up, since it was published in 2010).

Full text is here in case anyone cares, though it's a tough read:

Noninvasive stool-based detection of infant gastrointestinal development using gene expression profiles from exfoliated epithelial cells

http://ajpgi.physiology.org/content/298/5/G582.full

It looks like their primary goal was to validate the method they were using, which is probably why the title is what it is.

iVillage Member
Registered: 07-11-2006
Sun, 02-03-2013 - 12:58pm

While you see a small number of study participants meaning the study is of limited value, I see it in the opposite light.

In the BF/FF debate the formula defenders have taken to making comments such as the difference between the BF and FF infants is a single cold. They assert that while the BF infants may technically be "healthier" by having one less cold (or health concern du jour), it really makes little difference to breast or formula feed.

Using a very small number of participants, this study found an affect of feeding choice on at least 146 genes! Had it been a small difference, then yeah, I could agree the small sampling size may have been an issue. Instead, the small number of participants along with a very noticeable difference makes it a big deal.

Many people get very concerned about genetic engineering and genetically modified food. Here we have a study that says using formula instead of breastfeeding changes babies' genes. IMO that flies in the face of the formula defenders belief that the differences between BF and FF are trivial.

iVillage Member
Registered: 07-11-2006
Sun, 02-03-2013 - 1:22pm

"The regulatory role of nutrition is particularly crucial during the early postnatal period, impacting GI barrier function, gut motility, mucosal immunity, digestive and absorptive capacity, and microbial colonization. With respect to underlying mechanisms, data indicate that epigenetic regulation plays an important role in intestinal development and pathology".

Sounds like the authors think breastmilk is more than food.

"Human milk oligosaccharides have direct interactions with intestinal epithelial cells, as well as the microbiota, and, thus, may directly or indirectly affect host gene expression."

Sounds like the authors think oligosaccarides play a role in gene changes. If I remember correctly we've debated whether or not oligosaccarides are critical or infant development or if they are just bulk. Hmm.

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-16-2010
Sun, 02-03-2013 - 4:02pm

nisupulla wrote:
<p>While you see a small number of study participants meaning the study is of limited value, I see it in the opposite light.</p><p>In the BF/FF debate the formula defenders have taken to making comments such as the difference between the BF and FF infants is a single cold. They assert that while the BF infants may technically be "healthier" by having one less cold (or health concern du jour), it really makes little difference to breast or formula feed.</p><p>Using a very small number of participants, this study found an affect of feeding choice on at least 146 genes! Had it been a small difference, then yeah, I could agree the small sampling size may have been an issue. Instead, the small number of participants along with a very noticeable difference makes it a big deal.</p><p>Many people get very concerned about genetic engineering and genetically modified food. Here we have a study that says using formula instead of breastfeeding changes babies' genes. IMO that flies in the face of the formula defenders belief that the differences between BF and FF are trivial.</p>

The small size of the study certainly does make the study of less value.  The fact that a large number of genes were identified does not change that.  If anything, the small size of the study suggests that some of the differences in the 146 genes are likely due to chance rather than being an actual effect of BF/FF. 

Let's say I compared 10 random smokers to 10 random nonsmokers.  I'd probably find all kinds of differences between the groups (differences in incidence of various diseases, differences in average IQ, differences in average hair loss levels, differences in average height, differences in average income, etc.), the vast majority of which would likely be due to chance rather than to the smoking vs. nonsmoking factor.   I'd see lots of differences, but I wouldn't be able to trust that they were "real" differences between smokers and nonsmokers.

On the other hand, if I compared 50,000 nonsmokers to 50,000 nonsmokers, I'd probably see fewer differences, because the role of chance would be reduced.  On average, the groups would probably have about the same IQ, height, etc.) However, the likelihood that any differences I did see were actually due to smoking vs. nonsmoking would increase massively.

iVillage Member
Registered: 07-11-2006
Sun, 02-03-2013 - 5:08pm

While you are not wrong that ANY small study has limited value, what I was trying to say is that if you do a small study of breastfeeders vs non-breastfeeders and no differences are found, that does not exclude the possibility that there will be differences found between large numbers of breastfeeders and non-breastfeeders. This is the usual pattern. The differences between breast and formula fed infants generally take large numbers to be measured.

The study in question found noticeable differences in spite of a small sample size. That means that genetic expression differences between in breast vs formula fed has the potential to be quite dramatic.

Unlike your hypothetical example, the researchers of this study were not measuring random criteria unrelated to breast vs formula such as height or hair loss. They were comparing genes believed to be linked to nutritional health.

If I read the study correctly, gene expression might be the smoking gun, so to speak. It may be the underlying difference that leads to all the small but measurable differences which occur between BF/FF in so many ways.

Hope this is clearer.

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-16-2010
Tue, 02-05-2013 - 9:11am

nisupulla wrote:
<p>While you are not wrong that ANY small study has limited value, what I was trying to say is that if you do a small study of breastfeeders vs non-breastfeeders and no differences are found, that does not exclude the possibility that there will be differences found between large numbers of breastfeeders and non-breastfeeders. This is the usual pattern. The differences between breast and formula fed infants generally take large numbers to be measured.</p><p>The study in question found noticeable differences in spite of a small sample size. That means that genetic expression differences between in breast vs formula fed has the potential to be quite dramatic.</p><p>Unlike your hypothetical example, the researchers of this study were not measuring random criteria unrelated to breast vs formula such as height or hair loss. They were comparing genes believed to be linked to nutritional health.</p><p>If I read the study correctly, gene expression might be the smoking gun, so to speak. It may be the underlying difference that leads to all the small but measurable differences which occur between BF/FF in so many ways.</p><p>Hope this is clearer.</p>

I disagree that the "usual pattern" is that you look at a small number of BFers vs. FFers and see few or no differences, then you look at a larger number and see dramatic differences.  That is one pattern.  The other is that you look at a small number of BFers vs. FFers (or a small number of any two groups), you see differences that appear to be based on BF vs. FF, then you look at a large number, and/or add appropriate controls, and those differences go away because they were actually based on something else.

I think this is an interesting pilot study, particularly with regard to introducing a method by which future larger studies could be conducted. I don't think at all that it suggests they've found a "smoking gun" with regard to BF vs. FF or that they've actually identified 146 genes whose differential expression is responsible for BF vs. FF outcomes.  Nor do I think the authors view it that way.  (In addition to the modest statements in the study about their results and the need for future studies involving larger data sets, I'm pretty sure that a study identifying the smoking gun in the BF vs. FF debate will not be titled, "Noninvasive stool-based detection of infant gastrointestinal development using gene expression profiles from exfoliated epithelial cells," nor will it be published in a journal as obscure as the American Journal of Physiology - Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology.

iVillage Member
Registered: 07-11-2006
Tue, 02-05-2013 - 6:11pm

I disagree. I think the author is quite clear that there are key differences between breast and formula fed infants.

"Sharon Donovan, a professor of nutrition in the University of Illinois, who carried out the research, said, "For the first time, we can see that breastmilk induces genetic pathways that are quite different from those in formula-fed infants. The intestinal tract of the newborn undergoes marked changes in response to feeding. And the response to human milk far exceeds that of formula, suggesting that the active components in breastmilk are important in this response.' ”

http://www.drmomma.org/2010/06/human-milk-kick-starts-babies-immune.html

She does not seem to be conflicted at all about whether or not breastfeeding makes the difference. Her only question is "what" about breastfeeding makes the differences.

You say potato, I say potato.