Consideration 12 - Milk a Staggeringly Complex Phenomenon



Lactation is central to mammalian reproduction, and an understanding of the origins of lactation is necessary to comprehend the early evolution of the Class Mammalia. In modern mammals, lactation is a staggeringly complex phenomenon involving morphological, physiological, biochemical, ecological, and behavioural adaptations. Because such a complex web of adaptations could not have arisen de novo, lactation must have begun as a much simpler process. Hypotheses regarding the original adaptive value of proto‐lacteal secretions invoke thermoregulatory, antibiotic, behavioural or nutritive functions. In this review, we evaluate each of these hypotheses and attempt to reconstruct the origins of lactation in the light of current concepts of the biology of early mammals and their ancestors, the origin of mammary glands, the evolution of extravitelline nutrient provision, and the physiology and biochemistry of milk synthesis and secretion.”