Infants acquire many of their microbes from their mothers during the birth process. The acquisition of these microbes is believed to be critical in the development of the infant immune system. Bacteria also are transmitted to the infant through breastfeeding, and help to form the microbiome of the infant gastrointestinal (GI) tract; it is unknown whether viruses in human milk serve to establish an infant GI virome. We examined the virome contents of milk and infant stool in a cohort of mother-infant pairs to discern whether milk viruses colonize the infant GI tract. We observed greater viral alpha diversity in milk than in infant stool, similar to the trend we found for bacterial communities from both sites. When comparing beta diversity, viral communities were mostly distinguishable between milk and infant stool, but each was quite distinct from adult stool, urine, and salivary viromes. There were significant differences in viral families in the infant stool (abundant bacteriophages from the family Siphoviridae) compared to milk (abundant bacteriophages from the family Myoviridae), which may reflect significant differences in the bacterial families identified from both sites. Despite the differences in viral taxonomy, we identified a significant number of shared viruses in the milk and stool from all mother-infant pairs. Because of the significant proportion of bacteriophages transmitted in these mother-infant pairs, we believe the transmission of milk phages to the infant GI tract may help to shape the infant GI microbiome.
Keywords: breast milk; human microbiome; milk microbiota; virobiota; virome.