Main content area

Amino acid enrichment and compositional changes among mammalian milk proteins and the resulting nutritional consequences

Khaldi, Nora, Holton, Thérèse A., Shields, Denis C.
Journal of dairy science 2014 v.97 no.3 pp. 1248-1258
amino acids, casein, mammals, milk, neonates, nutritive value, protein content
Milk is a hallmark of mammalian evolution: a unique food that has evolved with mammals. Despite the importance of this food, it is not known if variation in AA composition between different species is important to milk proteins or how it might affect the nutritional value of milk. As milk is the only food source for newborn mammals, it has long been speculated that milk proteins should be enriched in essential AA. However, no systematic analysis supports this assumption. Although many factors influence the overall nutritional value of milk, including total protein concentration, we focused here on the AA composition of milk proteins and investigated the possibility that selection drives compositional changes. We identified 9 major milk proteins present in 13 mammalian species and compared them with a large group of nonmilk proteins. Our results indicate heterogeneity in the AA composition of milk proteins, showing significant enrichment and depletion of certain AA in milk-specific proteins. Although high levels of particular AA appear to be consistently maintained, orthologous milk proteins display significant differences in AA composition across species, most notably among the caseins. Interspecies variation of milk composition is thought to be indicative of nutritional optimization to the requirements of the species. In accordance with this, our observations indicate that milk proteins may have adapted to the species-specific nutritional needs of the neonate.