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Uncharted territory: Scientists sequence the first carbohydrate biopolymer
Date:10/11/2011

able them to perform more sophisticated and defined roles in the body. Bikunin, for example, is a natural anti-inflammatory that is used as a drug for the treatment of acute pancreatitis in Japan. It has the simplest chemical structure of any proteoglycan. Linhardt views the discovery of the structure of bikuin as the first step on the ladder to the discovery of the structure of more complex proteoglycans.

"The first genome sequences of DNA were on the simplest organisms such as bacteria. Once the technology was developed it ultimately led to the sequencing of the human genome," he said. "In our efforts to sequence carbohydrate biopolymers we don't yet know if the defined structure we observe for this simple protoglycan will hold for much more complex proteoglycans."

But, looking for structure in more complex proteoglycans will be among the next steps in the research for Linhardt and his team. The search for structure could help put to rest a long-running debate in the scientific community as to whether complex carbohydrate biopolymers require a defined structure to function.

"Despite all that is known about glycan formation, our understanding has not yet been deep enough to infer sequence or even determine if sequence occurs," Linhardt said. "These findings represent a new way of looking at these complex biomolecules as ordered structures."

Linhardt's research into carbohydrate sequencing began 30 years ago. In his previous work, he determined that some order existed in at least a portion of some carbohydrate biopolymers, but it did not represent the entire finished puzzle.

"Previously, we could see a pattern, but we could not see if all the chains were playing the same music. The tools did not yet exist. Now we can recognize it as a symphony."

To uncover the entire structure, Linhardt and his team, which was led by his doctoral student Mellisa Ly, borrowed a technique from the field of protein research calle
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Contact: Gabrielle DeMarco
demarg@rpi.edu
518-276-6542
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

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