Diversity and temporal dynamics of primate milk microbiomes

Carly R. Muletz-Wolz, Naoko P. Kurata, Elizabeth A. Himschoot, Elizabeth S. Wenker, Elizabeth A. Quinn, Katie Hinde, Michael L. Power, Robert C. Fleischer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Milk is inhabited by a community of bacteria and is one of the first postnatal sources of microbial exposure for mammalian young. Bacteria in breast milk may enhance immune development, improve intestinal health, and stimulate the gut-brain axis for infants. Variation in milk microbiome structure (e.g., operational taxonomic unit [OTU] diversity, community composition) may lead to different infant developmental outcomes. Milk microbiome structure may depend on evolutionary processes acting at the host species level and ecological processes occurring over lactation time, among others. We quantified milk microbiomes using 16S rRNA high-throughput sequencing for nine primate species and for six primate mothers sampled over lactation. Our data set included humans (Homo sapiens, Philippines and USA) and eight nonhuman primate species living in captivity (bonobo [Pan paniscus], chimpanzee [Pan troglodytes], western lowland gorilla [Gorilla gorilla gorilla], Bornean orangutan [Pongo pygmaeus], Sumatran orangutan [Pongo abelii], rhesus macaque [Macaca mulatta], owl monkey [Aotus nancymaae]) and in the wild (mantled howler monkey [Alouatta palliata]). For a subset of the data, we paired microbiome data with nutrient and hormone assay results to quantify the effect of milk chemistry on milk microbiomes. We detected a core primate milk microbiome of seven bacterial OTUs indicating a robust relationship between these bacteria and primate species. Milk microbiomes differed among primate species with rhesus macaques, humans and mantled howler monkeys having notably distinct milk microbiomes. Gross energy in milk from protein and fat explained some of the variations in microbiome composition among species. Microbiome composition changed in a predictable manner for three primate mothers over lactation time, suggesting that different bacterial communities may be selected for as the infant ages. Our results contribute to understanding ecological and evolutionary relationships between bacteria and primate hosts, which can have applied benefits for humans and endangered primates in our care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere22994
JournalAmerican Journal of Primatology
Issue number10-11
StatePublished - Oct 1 2019


  • bacteria
  • breast milk
  • infant
  • lactation
  • mammals
  • microbiota
  • symbiosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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