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Glycobiology is the study of the structure, function and biology of carbohydrates, also called glycans, which are widely distributed in nature. It is a small but rapidly growing field, with relevance to biomedicine, biotechnology and basic research. Proteomics, the systematic study of proteins in biological systems, has expanded the knowledge of protein expression, modification, interaction and function.
However, in eukaryotic cells the majority of proteins are post-translationally modified. A common post-translational modification essential for cell viability is the attachment of glycans.
Glycosylation defines the adhesive properties of glycoconjugates and it is largely through glycan–protein interactions that cell– cell and cell–pathogen contacts occur, a fact that highlights the importance of glycobiology. Considering the central role that glycans play in molecular encounters, glycoprotein and carbohydrate-based drugs and therapeutics represent a greater than $20 billion market. Glycomics, the systematic study of all glycan structures in a biological system, relies on effective enzymatic and analytical techniques for correlation of glycan structure with function.
Most people are familiar with carbohydrates, one type of macromolecule, especially when it comes to what we eat.
To lose weight, some individuals adhere to “low-carb” diets. Athletes, in contrast, often “carb-load” before important competitions to ensure that they have enough energy to compete at a high level. Carbohydrates are, in fact, an essential part of our diet; grains, fruits, and vegetables are all natural sources of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates provide energy to the body, particularly through glucose, a simple sugar that is a component of starch and an ingredient in many staple foods.
Carbohydrates also have other important functions in humans, animals, and plants.
Carbohydrates can be represented by the stoichiometric formula (CH2O)n, where n is the number of carbons in the molecule. In other words, the ratio of carbon to hydrogen to oxygen is 1:2:1 in carbohydrate molecules. This formula also explains the origin of the term “carbohydrate”: the components are carbon (“carbo”) and the components of water (hence, “hydrate”). Carbohydrates are classified into three subtypes: monosaccharides, disaccharides, and polysaccharides.
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