Mycobiome Profiles in Breast Milk from Healthy Women Depend on Mode of Delivery, Geographic Location, and Interaction with Bacteria

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2019 Apr 18;85(9):e02994-18. doi: 10.1128/AEM.02994-18. Print 2019 May 1.


Recent studies report the presence of fungal species in breast milk of healthy mothers, suggesting a potential role in infant mycobiome development. In the present work, we aimed to determine whether the healthy human breast milk mycobiota is influenced by geographical location and mode of delivery, as well as to investigate its interaction with bacterial profiles in the same samples. A total of 80 mature breast milk samples from 4 different countries were analyzed by Illumina sequencing of the internal transcribed spacer 1 (ITS1) region, joining the 18S and 5.8S regions of the fungal rRNA region. Basidiomycota and Ascomycota were found to be the dominant phyla, with Malassezia and Davidiella being the most prevalent genera across countries. A core formed by Malassezia, Davidiella, Sistotrema, and Penicillium was shared in the milk samples from the different origins, although specific shifts in mycobiome composition were associated with geographic location and delivery mode. The presence of fungi in the breast milk samples was further confirmed by culture and isolate characterization, and fungal loads were estimated by quantitative PCR (qPCR) targeting the fungal ITS1 region. Cooccurrence network analysis of bacteria and fungi showed complex interactions that were influenced by geographical location, mode of delivery, maternal age, and pregestational body mass index. The presence of a breast milk mycobiome was confirmed in all samples analyzed, regardless of the geographic origin.IMPORTANCE During recent years, human breast milk has been documented as a potential source of bacteria for the newborn. Recently, we have reported the presence of fungi in breast milk from healthy mothers. It is well known that environmental and perinatal factors can affect milk bacteria; however, the impact on milk fungi is still unknown. The current report describes fungal communities (mycobiota) in breast milk samples across different geographic locations and the influence of the mode of delivery. We also provide novel insights on bacterium-fungus interactions, taking into account environmental and perinatal factors. We identified a core of four genera shared across locations, consisting of Malassezia, Davidiella, Sistotrema, and Penicillium, which have been reported to be present in the infant gut. Our data confirm the presence of fungi in breast milk across continents and support the potential role of breast milk in the initial seeding of fungal species in the infant gut.

Keywords: Illumina sequencing; breast milk; fungi; microbiota; mycobiota.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bacterial Physiological Phenomena*
  • China
  • Female
  • Finland
  • Fungi / isolation & purification*
  • Geography
  • Humans
  • Milk, Human / microbiology*
  • Mycobiome*
  • RNA, Fungal / analysis
  • South Africa
  • Spain


  • RNA, Fungal