Friday, March 19, 2010

Glycobiology & Synthetic Bacteria

For years we have said that the future of medical and health-related research is in the study of sugars and sugar-containing molecules (ie. glycoproteins, glycolipids, etc.).

"Researchers have devised a way to attach sugars to proteins using unique biological and chemical methods. This means that large quantities of different glycoproteins can be generated for various medical and biological studies."

Recently, a paper was published in the journal Nature Chemical Biology in which it was reported that a bacteria (Campylobacter) could do something that was believed could only be done by animal/plant cells (eukaryotes). E. coli has always been used for research but is unable to glycosylate (add monosaccharides to other molecules).

"PhD student Flavio Schwarz from Professor Markus Aebi's group at the Institute of Microbiology of ETH-Zurich and researchers from the University of Maryland have developed a new method for producing glycoproteins." They have taken the glycosylation mechanism from Campylobacter and introduced it to E. coli. E. Coli will now be able to glycosylate.

What is so important about glycosylated molecules like glycoproteins?
"If you want to study host-pathogen interactions, for instance, you need pure samples of a particular glycoprotein, whereas natural systems can only offer researchers a highly complex blend of such substances." ALL pathogens interact and attach to human cells through carbohydrates on glycosylated structures.

"Glycoproteins play a crucial role in biology. They are found more frequently on the surface of cells than 'normal' proteins and they participate in numerous cellular processes, such as cell to cell communication. They are present throughout the human body, also in mucus, and the different glycosylation of blood proteins contribute to define the blood group antigen." Cell to cell communication is also called intercelullar communication.

What does the future hold?
"...has great potential for the development of new cancer treatments. These therapeutic glycoproteins can be produced specifically-tailored to remain in the bloodstream longer while targeting cancerous cells." The immune system uses glycoproteins to distinguish between rogue and normal cells.

"For now, we have simply managed to prove that our concept works. It remains to be seen what potential practical applications it might have," says Flavio Schwarz from the Life Science Zurich Graduate School."

Article [ScienceDaily: Synthetic Biology: Engineered Bacteria

Related Information
Essential Monosaccharides
Intercellular Communication

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