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Katrine Overgaard Poulsen

Research Assistant, PhD Student

Katrine Overgaard Poulsen


Title: Human breast milk and its impact on infants’ metabolism and gut microbial colonization early in life

University: Aarhus University

Department: Department of Food Science, Differentiated and Biofunctional Foods

Main supervisor: Jette F. Young, Lector, Aarhus University

Co-supervisor: Ulrik K. Sundekilde, Assistant professor, Aarhus University

External co-supervisor: Fuquan Yang, professor, Chinese Academy of Sciences

Project term: 1/8-2018 – 31/7 2022

Master: Combined Master-Ph.d.-student, Molecular Nutrition and Food Technology, Aarhus University


Human breast milk is considered as a superior source of energy for infants the first months after birth. It is generally recognized that breast milk contributes to the development of the infants’ immune system along with inducing colonization of a mature, health-promoting gut microbiota.

The composition of human breast milk varies according to factors such as lactation, genetics and environment, and human breast milk further comprises a distinctive breast milk-microbiota of its own. However, combined effects of maternal pre-pregnancy BMI, the constituents and microbiota of the mother’s breast milk on the infant’s gut colonization remain to be established, and the metabolic consequences thereof to be clarified.


Aim of the project

  • Comprehensive analysis of the composition of human breastmilk in relation to microbiota and metabolome, and possible associations to maternal pre-pregnancy BMI
  • Characterization of the gut microbiota of infants classified according to maternal pre-pregnancy BMI
  • Extending the characterization of microbial sources which could affect the development of infants’ gut microbiota early in life
  • Elucidate whether differentiation of analytical results dependent on maternal BMI has functional consequences for the infants via metabolomic analysis of the infants’ urine and faeces

Research outline

The project seeks to recruit pregnant healthy women with a BMI above 18.5 kg/m2, all of which subsequentlyare classified into one of three BMI groups: 1) BMI 18.5-24.99 kg/m2, 2) BMI 25-29.99 kg/m2, 3) BMI >30 kg/m2. The participants are then followed from the birth of the infant to the infant is 1 year old. It is crucial that the mothers breastfeed their infant during the first 4-6 months of life as recommended by the Danish Health Board (Sundhedsstyrelsen). Throughout the period, a series of samples are collected; vaginal-sample from the mothers during labour, urine samples, faeces samples, samples of the breast milk, samples from the infants’ saliva, and lastly samples from the skin of the mothers’ breast. These samples will be analysed using NMR-based metabolomics, metagenomic sequencing of 16S rRNA region and finally proteomics specifically for the breastmilk.

Partners of collaboration

Dennis Sandris Nielsen, professor, Department of Food Science, University of Copenhagen

Niels Uldbjerg, overlæge på Gynækologisk og obstetriskafdeling, Aarhus Universitetshospital, Skejby

The project is partly financed by Sino-Danish Center, Beijing, China and Aarhus University.


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