Nature Chemistry | The Sceptical Chymist

Pour some sugar on me

In this week’s issue of Nature, there’s an Insight – a special collection of six or seven related review articles – on Glycochemistry & Glycobiology. In this particular Insight, there are seven review articles:

Chemical glycosylation in the synthesis of glycoconjugate antitumour vaccines from Galonic & Gin

Unusual sugar biosynthesis and natural product glycodiversification from Thibodeaux, Melancon, & Liu

Cycling of O-linked beta-N-acetylglucosamine on nucleocytoplasmic proteins from Hart, Housley, & Slawson

Glycan-based interactions involving vertebrate sialic-acid-recognizing proteins from Varki

Heparan sulphate proteoglycans fine-tune mammalian physiology from Bishop, Schuksz, & Esko

Exploiting the defensive sugars of HIV-1 for drug and vaccine design from Scanlan, Offer, Zitzmann, & Dwek

Synthesis and medical applications of oligosaccharides from Seeberger & Werz

There’s also a paper from van Kasteren et al. (with a News & Views from Grotenbreg & Ploegh) describing a new chemical tagging approach that can be used to add multiple sugars to bare protein scaffolds (i.e., proteins that were over-expressed and purified from bacteria). (You may have also noticed Wang et al‘s paper in last week’s Nature, so it looks like April may be the sweetest – and not the cruelest – month after all…)

As I wrote in the editorial that accompanies the Insight, scientists generally shy away from carbohydrates – I barely remember learning about them in my undergraduate years and spent little time thinking about them during graduate school. But now it seems like the field is exploding: everywhere you look there’s an interesting paper about carbohydrate chemistry and biology.

So with that in mind, we’ve put together this collection of review articles to celebrate chemists and biologists working with carbohydrates… We hope you enjoy them!


Joshua Finkelstein (Senior Editor, Nature)


  1. Report this comment

    Charles Abrams said:

    I enjoyed the paper by Galonic and Gin, but was frustrated that they did not report the overall yield and scale for any synthesis to support the fundamental idea in their abstract and conclusion: that chemical synthesis is a reliable method for obtaining usable quantities of oligos for vaccine research. One can not compare the Globo-H methods on a practical level without this data. Is not the goal to produce the highest overall yield and purity? If early trials are successful, are these methods sufficient to support demand for larger scale trials? In particular I am puzzled by the authors conclusion that organic synthesis “fulfil[s] its role as a supplier or rare carbohydrate antigens..”. I can not reach this conclusion without some yield and scale data. Synthetic chemistry research is rightly criticized for creating beautiful syntheses that do not solve practical problems (look at Taxol, for example!) I can not believe there was not enough room in the paper for a few numbers.