[Originally published on BioGPS's Gene-of-the-Week Series on July 14, 2014.]
Despite declining birth and fertility rates, the global market for baby food and infant formula is on the rise; with a projected increase to $31 billion by 2020, worldwide spending on baby food products will soon exceed the total annual budget for NIH research grants! Much of this industry growth can be attributed to increasing demand for advanced nutrition, including supplements that improve brain and immune system development. Inspiration for these new ingredients comes from no other source than the original infant formula, one that nature’s had several hundred million years to perfect… breast milk.
Besides having nutritional content that’s evolutionarily tailored to fit a baby’s needs, human milk also contains thousands of different non-nutritive, bioactive molecules that contribute towards organ development, immune maturation, and even a healthy gut microbiome. In recent years, one particular protein has gained popularity as an anti-bacterial / anti-viral /anti-fungal /anti-cancer / pro-baby miracle molecule--lactoferrin.