Houston — Mother’s milk isn’t just for babies anymore. Global chemical giants DowDuPont and BASF are investing millions to ramp up production of an indigestible sugar found naturally in breast milk. Infant formula makers such as Nestlé can’t get enough of the synthetic ingredient. Now the companies are eyeing a potentially bigger customer: adults. DuPont estimates the annual market could reach $1bn. Human milk oligosaccharide (HMO) is the third most common solid in breast milk after lactose and fat. HMO escapes digestion, allowing it to reach the colon where it feeds beneficial bacteria. HMOs may explain why breast-fed babies tend to fare better than formula-fed, said Rachael Buck, who leads HMO research at Similac formula-maker Abbott Laboratories. “It’s just been a fascinating treasure trove of benefits we’ve uncovered,’’ Buck said. In babies, HMOs strengthen the developing immune system, helping fight infection and inflammation while aiding brain development, according to early r...

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