BOX 1-2
Important Facts About Glycans


  1. Glycans are the most abundant family of organic molecules on the planet.
  2. The potential information content of glycans vastly exceeds that of any other class of macromolecules.
  3. Every living cell on the planet is covered with a dense and complex array of glycans. These glycans form the glycocalyx in many types of cells (such as in humans) and comprise the cell wall in others (such as plants). Some cells do not have a nucleus, but all have a glycocalyx or cell wall.
  4. Every molecule, cell, or organism that interacts with a cell must do so in the context of the glycocalyx or cell wall.
  5. The vast majority of cellular and secreted proteins are modified with glycans, which modify, alter, and/or control their functions.


  1. Elimination of any single major class of glycans from an organism results in death.
  2. Every disease that affects humans significantly involves glycans.
  3. A great majority of host-pathogen interactions involve glycans, via recognition, degradation, or molecular mimicry.
  4. Most protein therapeutics must be glycosylated properly to be functionally effective.
  5. Altered glycosylation is a universal feature of cancer and contributes to pathogenesis and progression.
  6. Many vaccines are glycan based.


  1. Glycoscience is one of the only fields that directly impacts both the pharmaceutical and energy industries.
  2. The majority of solar energy trapped as cellular energy is converted to carbohydrates.
  3. There are no other candidate classes of molecules that can solve our energy and materials needs.
  4. Petroleum resources have finite lifetimes, but polysaccharide resources are continually being created with the sun’s energy.
  5. Nitrogen fixation in plants depends on carbohydrate signaling between bacteria and plant roots.

particular person in need of a heart, liver, or kidney transplant can receive an organ from a particular donor.

Indeed, cell surface glycosylation (i.e., the process by which cells create and display their glycocalyx) is as important to understanding life as is the genetic code, yet our understanding of the information contained in glycosylation is rudimentary at best. In large part this lack of knowl-

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