DNA and protein sequencing have forever transformed science, medicine, and society. Understanding the structure of these complex biomolecules has revolutionized drug development, medical diagnostics, forensic science, and our understanding of evolution and development. But, one major molecule in the biological triumvirate has remained largely uncharted: carbohydrate biopolymers.
Today, for the first time ever, a team of researchers led by Robert Linhardt of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has announced in the October 9 Advanced Online Publication edition of the journal Nature Chemical Biology the sequence of a complete complex carbohydrate biopolymer. The surprising discovery provides the scientific and medical communities with an important and fundamental new view of these vital biomolecules, which play a role in everything from cell structure and development to disease pathology and blood clotting.
The paper is titled “The proteoglycan bikunin has a defined sequence.”
“Carbohydrate biopolymers, known as glycosaminoglycans, appear to be really important in how cells interact in higher organisms and could explain evolutionary differences and how development is driven. We also know that carbohydrate chains respond to disease, injury, and changes in the environment,” said Linhardt, who is the Ann and John H. Broadbent Jr. ’59 Senior Constellation Professor of Biocatalysis and Metabolic Engineering at Rensselaer. “In order to understand how and why this all happens, we first need to know their structure. And today, at least for the simplest glycosaminoglycan structure, we can now do this.”