efforts to create a database worthy of long-term support will require focus regarding its content and function, as defined by consensus of the community that will use it. Such a database will need to do a few things very well in a sustainable and unambiguous way that is independent of new methodologies. One first step could be the creation of a centralized structural database that can be extended by connecting it to other resources. Such a database must be based at a centralized location to assure long-term stability and continuity and cannot be dependent on any individual scientist or institution. Other supplemental databases with incomplete information may add value if made available in parallel to a fully curated and centralized database. A revolution in the development of such databases would bring other scientists into the field, demystify it, and provide a tool to educate individuals about glycoscience.

5.7     SUMMARY AND FINDINGS

As this chapter makes clear, a diverse suite of tools are available to synthesize glycans; understand glycan structures, functions, and interactions; and share and communicate glycan information across the research community. Important limitations in the toolkit currently restrict glycoscience to a field that is actively practiced by only a relatively small group of specialists. Existing tools are useful and provide a base from which to answer glycoscience questions; however, they are not adequate to advance the field to the point where it can realize its potential widely across biology, chemistry, and materials science. New energy and creative solutions, stemming not only from glycoscience specialists but from many others in the broader scientific community too, will be needed to address some of these technical challenges.

As a result, the committee finds that:

  • Scientists and engineers need access to a broad array of chemically well-defined glycans.
  • Over the past 30 years, tremendous advances have been made in chemical and enzymatic synthesis of glycans, but these methods remain relegated to specialized laboratories capable of producing only small quantities of a given glycan. For glycoscience to advance, significant further progress in glycan synthesis is needed to create widely applicable methodologies that generate both large and small quantities of any glycan on demand.
  • A suite of widely applicable tools, analogous to those available for studying nucleic acids and proteins, is needed to detect, describe, and fully purify glycans from natural sources and then to characterize their chemical composition and structure.


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