Glycobiology and Glycomics

Glycomics is a field that is a logical offshoot of the fields of genomics and proteomics and is considered as a sub-discipline of metabolomics. Glycobiology is the study of the structure, function and structure-function relationships of carbohydrates known to carry and store significant biological information crucial in virtually all physiological and pathophysiological processes.

The DNA blueprint of a cell, the genome, encodes the proteome. Intron and exon splicing in eukaryotes complicates the structural proteomics and the function of each protein (functional proteomics). The proteome is directly responsible for the synthesis of the metabolome (all natural products). The proteome is further complicated by posttranslational modification, the most frequent of which is glycosylation. Over 60% of human proteins are glycosylated yet the structure and function of this glycosylation is relatively unexplored. Moreover, every animal cell is surrounded by a complex coating of carbohydrates known as the glycocalyx that is critical in modulating various processes including signaling, cell-cell interaction, cell adhesion and migration (Figure 1). The fields of structural and functional glycomics are being studied in the Bioatalysis and Metabolic Engineering (BCME) Constellation.

The glycocalyx of an animal cell containing membrane-bound glycolipids, glycoproteins and proteoglycans

Figure 1. The glycocalyx of an animal cell containing membrane-bound glycolipids, glycoproteins and proteoglycans (Lanctot, P. M., et al, 2007, Curr. Opin. Chem. Bio).


Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) are isolated from the inner cell mass of an embryo and can differentiate into all types of cells making up an organism. Thus, the study of ESCs is important to understand the basic science of developmental biology and for the practical application of creating cell lines, tissues and organs that can be used in the fields of tissue engineering, and drug discovery.

The normal physiology of cells within an animal organism is regulated through signaling. This signaling can be autocrine, paracrine or endocrine, such as growth factors, chemokines, hormones, or through cell-cell contact. This complex signaling frequently involves the gycocalyx and extracellular matrix and is critical for normal physiological function. In addition to normal physiological processes, much pathophysiology is associated with the subversion of the normal glycome or an abnormal glycome.

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