Production of human milk oligosaccharides by enzymatic and whole-cell microbial biotransformations

J Biotechnol. 2017 Sep 20;258:79-91. doi: 10.1016/j.jbiotec.2017.07.030. Epub 2017 Jul 29.


Human milk oligosaccharides (HMO) are almost unique constituents of breast milk and are not found in appreciable amounts in cow milk. Due to several positive aspects of HMO for the development, health, and wellbeing of infants, production of HMO would be desirable. As a result, scientists from different disciplines have developed methods for the preparation of single HMO compounds. Here, we review approaches to HMO preparation by (chemo-)enzymatic syntheses or by whole-cell biotransformation with recombinant bacterial cells. With lactose as acceptor (in vitro or in vivo), fucosyltransferases can be used for the production of 2'-fucosyllactose, 3-fucosyllactose, or more complex fucosylated core structures. Sialylated HMO can be produced by sialyltransferases and trans-sialidases. Core structures as lacto-N-tetraose can be obtained by glycosyltransferases from chemical donor compounds or by multi-enzyme cascades; recent publications also show production of lacto-N-tetraose by recombinant Escherichia coli bacteria and approaches to obtain fucosylated core structures. In view of an industrial production of HMOs, the whole cell biotransformation is at this stage the most promising option to provide human milk oligosaccharides as food additive.

Keywords: Chemo-enzymatic synthesis; Fucosyllactose; Human milk oligosaccharides; Lacto-N-tetraose; Microbial biotransformation; Sialyllactose.

MeSH terms

  • Bioreactors
  • Biotransformation
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Metabolic Engineering
  • Milk, Human / chemistry*
  • N-Acetylneuraminic Acid
  • Oligosaccharides / chemistry*
  • Oligosaccharides / metabolism*


  • Oligosaccharides
  • N-Acetylneuraminic Acid