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

d the proteomics top-down approach. As opposed to the bottom-up approach that first breaks apart a complex biopolymer into pieces and then rebuilds it piece by piece like a jigsaw puzzle, the top-down approach used by Linhardt and colleagues allows the researcher to picture the whole intact puzzle. This can only be accomplished with some of the most sophisticated technology available to the scientific community today, including very high-powered mass spectrometers.

Linhardt used a mass spectrometer located in the Rensselaer Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS) to make his initial discoveries, and had these results independently confirmed on a separate and higher-level spectrometer at the University of Georgia. Mass spectrometers break down a molecule into separate charged particles or ions. These ions can then be categorized and analyzed based on their mass-to-charge ratio. These ratios then allow for sequencing of the entire molecule.

"This was truly the convergence of really sophisticated spectroscopy and its application to biology," Linhardt said. "We were fortunate to have a lot of time to play with the instrument at CBIS to understand its capabilities."

Beyond the technology it also took faith and determination. According to Linhardt, "It takes a student that is willing to try something even when the odds are pretty low. If it doesn't work, you make incremental progress. If it does work, you can make a great discovery. But, from the beginning you need to be a believer that it is worth taking the chance because it takes a lot of hard work in the lab."

And the odds weren't in Linhardt's favor. Despite being the most simple of proteoglycans, there were still 290 billion different possible sequences for the molecule.

"The first sample we looked at, we got the structure," Linhardt said. "In the end we did 15 chains and they all came back playing the same exact symphony."


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Contact: Gabrielle DeMarco
demarg@rpi.edu
518-276-6542
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

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