Background: Fungi constitute an important yet frequently neglected component of the human microbiota with a possible role in health and disease. Fungi and bacteria colonise the infant gastrointestinal tract in parallel, yet most infant microbiome studies have ignored fungi. Milk is a source of diverse and viable bacteria, but few studies have assessed the diversity of fungi in human milk.
Results: Here we profiled mycobiota in milk from 271 mothers in the CHILD birth cohort and detected fungi in 58 (21.4%). Samples containing detectable fungi were dominated by Candida, Alternaria, and Rhodotorula, and had lower concentrations of two human milk oligosaccharides (disialyllacto-N-tetraose and lacto-N-hexaose). The presence of milk fungi was associated with multiple outdoor environmental features (city, population density, and season), maternal atopy, and early-life antibiotic exposure. In addition, despite a strong positive correlation between bacterial and fungal richness, there was a co-exclusion pattern between the most abundant fungus (Candida) and most of the core bacterial genera.
Conclusion: We profiled human milk mycobiota in a well-characterised cohort of mother-infant dyads and provide evidence of possible host-environment interactions in fungal inoculation. Further research is required to establish the role of breastfeeding in delivering fungi to the developing infant, and to assess the health impact of the milk microbiota in its entirety, including both bacterial and fungal components.
Keywords: Breastfeeding; Breastmilk; CHILD cohort study; Environment; Fungi; Human milk; Mycobiota.