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Student research project

Supervisors: Professor Peter Meikle, Dr Sudip Paul and Dr Yow Keat Tham


Breastfeeding, the biological norm of feeding babies, provides numerous health benefits to babies. Infant-formula-feeding is thought to be inferior to breastfeeding because human milk provides specific and non-specific factors that have long-term consequences for early metabolism and the development of diseases.

Lipids make up 3–5% of the composition of human breast milk. Besides providing energy, breast milk lipids are also necessary for the infant growth and development. We have recently performed the largest plasma lipidomic profiling study of mothers and infants from the Barwon Infant Study (BIS) and observed that ether lipid species were markedly elevated in infants who were breastfed compared to those who were not. We have also profiled breast milk samples available from BIS and several infant formulae and found that breast milk has a clearly distinct lipidome compared to infant formulae. In particular, breast milk has significantly higher ether lipid content compared to infant formulae. Ether lipids are a class of lipids with unique structural feature and are thought to have anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory properties.

The objective of this project is to assess the impact of modifying the ether lipid composition of milk on the cellular and tissue lipidome of offspring.

We will supplement pregnant and lactating mice with alkylglycerols (naturally occurring precursors that can be metabolised into endogenous ether lipids) to modify the milk ether lipid content. We will characterise the milk samples using our state-of-the-art liquid-chromatography mass spectrometry based lipidomics method to confirm the modification of ether lipid content in mouse milk. We will also characterise the lipidomes of plasma, different immune cell types and several tissues of newborn mouse pups (before they transition onto solid food) to examine how modification of ether lipid content in milk affects pups’ endogenous lipidomes.

Key skillsets that could be obtained through this project include animal handling, exposure to molecular biology techniques such as lipid and RNA extractions, qPCR, lipidomics, and analyses of lipidomic datasets.


This project is suitable for a Master or PhD student.

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