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Your opinions on carbohydrates - (Jul/31/2007 )

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Hi Bioforumers,

What are your views on the following.....

1) Why have carbohydrates been the least explored class of biomolecules (in comparison to nucleic acids and proteins)?

2) Why is carbohydrate synthesis so important in biological chemistry?

3) Why is there alot of funding in this area??

I didn't realise that carbs/sugars are being taken very seriously over the last few years.... What a sweet research area smile.gif

Thanks for your opinions!

QUOTE ( @ Jul 31 2007, 06:26 AM)
Hi Bioforumers,
2) Why is carbohydrate synthesis so important in biological chemistry?

The monosaccharide carbohydrate known as glucose is one of the byproducts of cellular photosynthesis in plants from which all energy is introduced into an ecology. When we know how to synthesize glucose, we know how to introduce energy back into an ecosystem and eventually back into our own systems because of all of the billions of biochemical reactions that the glucose allows in other organisms that are closer to the autotrophs on the food chain/web. Very important stuff.

- Bryan


Did you mean complex carbohydrates?

Why is it not as well studied as proteins and DNA?
hmmm, maybe they dont code for anything? That does not make them less important. Same as lipids, which are less studied than both protein and DNA, but no means they are simple or less significant.
Sugar residues as a part of lipid or protein are involved in receptor recognition and have implications in developmental biology and host defense mechanisms.

Maybe they can be quite complicated and heterogenous in nature, therefore require special skills to synthesize/study these subjects.

Any good science with significant theoritical impact or practical utility can be funded.

This is just my 2 cents. Anyone add more to it?


Carbohydrate chemistry means determining chirality again and again. Many groups of sugars are isomers differing only by their configuration about chiral centers. This isn't a problem for proteins, build from L amino acids (and the achiral glycine), or in nucleic acids, where the chirality is not so complex and already worked out (a ribose is a ribose is a ribose). In sugar work, you are forever running into the problem of determining the stereochemistry for each reaction intermediate. This is not my field, but I was blessed with a biochem instructor who is a sugar chemist and he conveyed some appreciation of the problems.

- Jon

-Jon Moulton-

Why Carbs - because they are so sweet!!

Research focus used to be on Carbs once long ago until the proteins took all the highlight. Carbs were not totally forgotten but lagged behind because proteins seemed to answers many questions that researchers were looking for; and Carbs were difficult to study while molecular biology was invented. Just look at the 'bioforum' and see the discussion. Most are on Molecular Bio and Proteins. (far, far more than chitchats - we are trying to catch up). So, may be we can blame molecular biology for this.

>> This area of research has to deal with an inherent level of complexity not seen in other areas of applied biology. Whereas genes have four building blocks and proteins have 20, the saccharides have a multitude of building blocks. While these building blocks can be attached only linearly for proteins and genes, they can be arranged in a branched array for saccharides, further increasing the degree of compexity. Advances in glycomics are anticipated to be driven by improvements in molecular sequencing and bioinformatics, which is the computational organization and processing of sequence data. << Wikipedia on Glycobiology

In Cell Biology too the complexity is so important that even a minor difference in structure can cause lot of differences - especially the cell surface carbohydrate antigens. Like explained in quoted Wiki, the potential with Carbohydrates seems endless and very complex.

Carbohydrates also have very important functions in cell biology. Some that I can recollect

- as source of energy (most obvious)
- cell surface for signalling and cellular interactions; antigenicity, etc
- structural

Add more to the list.

Why so much funding?

May be because for decades it was silent and now with new understanding how much Carbs are important, this side seems more fertile for researches.

-Bungalow Boy-

1) Why have carbohydrates been the least explored class of biomolecules (in comparison to nucleic acids and proteins)?

Well im afraid its a question of lucre.
Companies made so much money with enzymes in the last decades and now you have enzymes for dishwashing and stuff like this. I dont know who patented the taq-polymerase but that guy must own an island or something. laugh.gif
Some non-enzymatic proteins are used in medicine. Have you heard of insulin? It used to be gained from pigs but now some companies ferment it with yeast or E.coli.
And research with DNA/RNA is done so much because it gives us some useful tools that can be used in many research fields. The PCR for example is used in medicine, biotechnology, forensic (CSI has it in almost every episode) and many more.

I guess the reason for the lack of carbohydrate research is the lack of money making opportunities. At the moment the most profitable way to use sugar is to ferment it to alcohol for fuel.

2) Why is carbohydrate synthesis so important in biological chemistry?

Photosynthesis was mentioned before. I agree.

Carbohydrates are interesting because they are non-template polymers.
That means: If you look at DNA/RNA for example its always copying and pasting.
And if you look at a protein its the same. The information of who the final protein is about to look like (the template) is coded in the DNA.

For polysacharides its a little more complex. Because the information of who to build them is not coded in the genome directly.
But anyway for example a plant knows who to produce starch and cellulose. Both are polymers of glucose just put together in a different way. How this works is researched at the moment cause fully understanding this could lead to new artificial polymers.

3) Why is there alot of funding in this area??

Well fuel as i mentioned before.
And biopolymers for new super bio plastics. Again lucre cause you can charge like 50% more if a product has the bio-prefix. happy.gif


I disagree... carbohydrates (well, two in particular) are some of the most highly studied compounds in the lab, speaking for myself and most mol biologists, I can't move for bumping into people working on DNA and RNA... both sugars, both highly studied!


1) Why have carbohydrates been the least explored class of biomolecules (in comparison to nucleic acids and proteins)?

i think sialyllactose was talking about DNA/RNA when he talked about nucleic acids. and i dont think that you could call DNA/RNA "sugar" since this term is actually used for mono-, di- and oligo-saccharides.


Just like you dont classify glycoproteins as sugars either. tongue.gif


Operative term... ribose, definitely a sugar, definitely found in DNA and RNA, the bonds between bases in DNA and RNA are sugar-sugar bonds (alpha 1-6 if I remember my chemistry, where we had a section on sugars including DNA and RNA). I don't know how you would classify some of the microRNAs of length about 8 bases, but that sounds like an "oligo" to me, relying strictly on definitions of course.

I did note that sialyllactose had talked about nucleic acids, but that was after I had posted, and I couldn't be bothered changing my post. I also noted that the question was about CARBOHYDRATES, not sugars specifically, there can be a difference!

Quick question: Would you classify lignin or starch as sugars? Both as far as I know can have long chains but are still sugars.

Sorry, must stop venting experimental frustrations. rolleyes.gif


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