PerspectiveChemistry

Putting sugars under strain

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Science  17 May 2019:
Vol. 364, Issue 6441, pp. 631-632
DOI: 10.1126/science.aax3501

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Summary

Sugar molecules such as glucose usually exist in a stable low-energy conformation that creates the least amount of strain in the bonds between the constituent atoms. These shape preferences can make it difficult to achieve precise control over the orientation of new bonds created between sugar molecules; a reaction on one face versus the other of a sugar will produce two products that weigh the same but have different silhouettes and therefore different properties. Reliably stringing together sugars to form short chains (oligosaccharides) or longer chains (polysaccharides or glycans) is needed to provide analytical standards and other tools used to identify and study the roles of glycans in immunological, neurological, and other biological processes (1). On pages 674 and 677 of this issue, Ikuta et al. (2) and Komura et al. (3), respectively, show that sugars can be forced to connect in unusual ways by adding some strain to their molecular structures.