Glycobiology – new science emerging is the study of the structure, biosynthesis, and biology of saccharides (sugar chains or glycans). These glycans are widely distributed in nature, as in plants, animals and humans.
Sugars or saccharides are essential components of all living things. They play various roles in biology. They are well researched in various medical, biochemical and biotechnological fields. Glycobiology is new science emerging.
The term glycobiology was coined by Prof. Raymond Dwek in 1988 to recognize the coming together of the traditional disciplines of carbohydrate chemistry and biochemistry. This coming together was as a result of a much greater understanding of the cellular and molecular biology of glycans. However as early as the late nineteenth century pioneering efforts were being made by Emil Fisher to establish the structure of some basic sugar molecules.
What are Glycans?
Glycans are present on the cell surface and often referred to as the “cloths of cells”. Their cell properties, has major role and functions in cell to cell and inter-cell communications specific to each cell. Glycans are recognized on secreted proteins in body fluids, and show a wide variety of functions, which include prevention of aggregation or proteolysis of secret proteins such as interferon and erythropoietin, and transport signaling in our body.
Important Functions of Glycans
- Glycoproteins found on the cell surface play a critical role in bacterial and viral recognition.
- They are involved in cellular signaling pathways and modulate cell function.
- They are important in innate immunity.
- They determine cancer development.
- They orchestrate the cellular fate, inhibit proliferation, regulate circulation and invasion.
- They affect the stability and folding of proteins.
- They affect the pathway and fate of glycoproteins.
- There are many glycan-specific diseases, often hereditary diseases.
There are important medical applications of glycomics:
- Lectins fractionate cells to avoid graft-versus-host disease in hematopoietic stem cell transplantation.
- Activation and expansion of cytolytic CD8 T cells in cancer treatment.
Glycomics is particularly important in microbiology because glycans play diverse roles in bacterial physiology. Research in bacterial glycomics could lead to the development of:
- novel drugs
- bioactive glycans
- glycoconjugate vaccines
Glycomics is the comprehensive study of glycomes (the entire complement of sugars. They can either be free or present in more complex molecules of an organism), including genetic, physiologic, pathologic, and other aspects. Glycomics “is the systematic study of all glycan structures of a given cell type or organism”. It is asubset of glycobiology.
The term glycomics is derived from the chemical prefix for sweetness or a sugar, “glyco-“, and was formed to follow the naming convention established by genomics (which deals with genes) and proteomics (which deals with proteins).
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