News of the WeekOrganic Chemistry

Cooking Up Sugar Chains in a Hurry

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Science  12 Feb 1999:
Vol. 283, Issue 5404, pp. 911-913
DOI: 10.1126/science.283.5404.911

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The chains of sugar groups known as oligosaccharides are difficult to synthesize, as the sugars can snap together in many different arrangements and thus can form a myriad of three-dimensional shapes. Now, in a paper in last week's issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society, a research team reports creating a set of standard sugar-based building blocks and a computer program for choosing the right ones to make a specific oligosaccharide. By speeding the synthesis of these sugar chains, which are essential for everything from the ability of immune cells to recognize their targets to the spread of cancer around the body, the new scheme could help biologists pin down their precise roles.