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Am J Primatol. 2019 May 20:e22982. doi: 10.1002/ajp.22982. [Epub ahead of print]

Composition and stability of the vervet monkey milk microbiome.

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Interdepartmental Doctoral Program in Anthropological Sciences, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY.
Department of Pathology, Section on Comparative Medicine, Wake Forest School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, NC.
Department of Psychology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA.
Center for Studies in Demography & Ecology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA.
Washington National Primate Research Center, University of Washington, Seattle, WA.
Department of Anthropology, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY.


The human milk microbiome is vertically transmitted to offspring during the postnatal period and has emerged as a critical driver of infant immune and metabolic development. Despite this importance in humans, the milk microbiome of nonhuman primates remains largely unexplored. This dearth of comparative work precludes our ability to understand how species-specific differences in the milk microbiome may differentially drive maternal effects and limits how translational models can be used to understand the role of vertically transmitted milk microbes in human development. Here, we present the first culture-independent data on the milk microbiome of a nonhuman primate. We collected milk and matched fecal microbiome samples at early and late lactation from a cohort of captive lactating vervet monkeys (N = 15). We found that, similar to humans, the vervet monkey milk microbiome comprises a shared community of taxa that are universally present across individuals. However, unlike in humans, this shared community is dominated by the genera Lactobacillus, Bacteroides, and Prevotella. We also found that, in contrast to previous culture-dependent studies in humans, the vervet milk microbiome exhibits greater alpha-diversity than the gut microbiome across lactation. Finally, we did not find support for the translocation of microbes from the gut to the mammary gland within females (i.e., "entero-mammary pathway"). Taken together, our results show that the vervet monkey milk microbiome is taxonomically diverse, distinct from the gut microbiome, and largely stable. These findings demonstrate that the milk microbiome is a unique substrate that may selectively favor the establishment and persistence of particular microbes across lactation and highlights the need for future experimental studies on the origin of microbes in milk.


gut; microbiome; milk; vervet monkey


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