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March 23, 2009, 8:11 pm

Carbohydrates for new medicines

New ways to make carbohydrate molecules in the laboratory will help in designing new vaccines and other medicines.

[Science Daily]

For some years it has been possible to order proteins and DNA molecules from laboratories where they are made synthetically to order. 

This revolutionised the design of new medicines and scientific research, but until now it was not possible to do the same with carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates have the problem that they are often large and branched - the only way to get them in a pure form until now was to isolate them from plants or animals.

But with these new methods, carbohydrates will be able to be synthesized too!

Why are carbohydrates important in cells?  In addition to being valuable sources of energy (think of glucose !), they are found on the outside of many cells, including bacteria, and act as signals to other cells such as our immune cells.

So, if we want to make vaccines, making carbohydrates like those on the outside of dangerous (pathogenic) bacteria will help scientists make more effective vaccines.

How are carbohydrates made?

Chains of single sugars known as monosaccharides are joined together by glycosidic bonds to make disaccharides and polysaccharides of many different shapes and sizes, all depending on which monosaccharides are used and just how the bonds link them together...

starch and cellulose are two polysaccharides found in plants with very different functions - do you know what they look like and what they do?  Find out here!

Action:

You can find out where starch is inside a plant using the iodine test - read more here!

Corn starch has unusual properties - hard to believe - see our video story here !