Food in an evolutionary context: Insights from mother's milk

Katie Hinde, J. Bruce German

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


In the emergence of diverse animal life forms, food is the most insistent and pervasive of environmental pressures. As the life sciences begin to understand organisms in genomic detail, evolutionary perspectives provide compelling insights into the results of these dynamic interactions between food and consumer. Such an evolutionary perspective is particularly needed today in the face of unprecedented capabilities to alter the food supply. What should we change? Answering this question for food production, safety and sustainability will require a much more detailed understanding of the complex interplay between humans and their food. Many organisms that we grow, produce, process and consume as foods naturally evolved adaptations in part to avoid being eaten. Crop breeding and processing have been the tools to convert overtly toxic and antinutritious commodities into foods that are safe to eat. Now the challenge is to enhance the nutritional quality and thereby contribute to improving human health. We posit that the Rosetta stone of food and nourishment is mammalian lactation and 'mother's milk'. The milk that a mammalian mother produces for her young is a complete and comprehensive diet. Moreover, the capacity of the mammary gland as a remarkable bioreactor to synthesise milk, and the infant to utilise milk, reflects 200 million years of symbiotic co-evolution between producer and consumer. Here we present emerging transdisciplinary research 'decoding' mother's milk from humans and other mammals. We further discuss how insights from mother's milk have important implications for food science and human health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2219-2223
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of the Science of Food and Agriculture
Issue number11
StatePublished - Aug 30 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Dairy
  • Gene-culture co-evolution
  • Infant development
  • Lactation
  • Mammalian evolution
  • Nutrition
  • Obesity
  • Personalised medicine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Food Science
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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