The development of a glycoscience toolkit has been identified as the most important activity for a roadmap to advance glycoscience (Transforming Glycoscience: A Roadmap for the Future,

IBCarb will support the development and commercialisation of a glycoscience toolkit from academia into industry through collaborations with tool providers (e.g. providers of reagents, instrumentation manufacturers, software developers) for applications in health, food, materials and energy.


A number of challenges that IBCarb will seek to address have already been identified in Tools. This list is not exclusive and more challenges will be identified at future IBCarb events.

Fast and efficient synthesis of carbohydrates including scale up

Chemoenzymatic and synthetic biology approaches have been very successful for the fast synthesis of natural and unnatural glycans, in particular human glycan structures. The challenge is to bring these synthetic methods to industrial scale. There are a broad range of ‘glycoenzymes’ available covering a significant amount of human carbohydrate sequence space. These enzymes are mainly in academic laboratories and used on small scale. The challenge will be to identify target structures (e.g. human milk oligosaccharides) and to develop these ‘glycoenzymes’ into robust biocatalysts for scale-up.

 Analytical tools for the analysis of glycan sidechains in glycoproteins/biopharmaceuticals

Great strides have been made in the high-throughput sequencing of carbohydrate polymers, in particular by mass spectrometry. The UK is leading in the field of structural glycomics and has a significant presence of instrument manufacturers. This technology is an area ripe for transfer into the commercial sector. At the same time, there are clear gaps in the technology (e.g. isomer analysis) and close interaction between academia and instrument manufacturers will be crucial in formulating and solving these gaps. A major economic pull will be the biopharmaceutical sector (see challenge subtheme ‘Health’ link about/health) where there will be increased investments in the UK and there is a need for careful analysis of protein glycosylation.

Provision of glycan databases

DNA and protein databases are invaluable resources for biotechnology, however open access equivalents are not available for glycan structures. This challenge will need to be addressed on an international stage (joining efforts such as UniCarbKB link), but the IBCarb network will provide a solid base to help bring the databases into the public domain and make sure they are accessible and tailored to UKplc needs.

 Provision of glycan arrays to find biomarkers for disease

Given the limitations of genetic tools to study glycomes, high-throughput biochemical tools, in particular microarrays (‘glycoarrays’) have proven invaluable. Several UK laboratories are leading in glycoarray technology and the objective of IBCarb is to make glycoarrays available to thegeneral scientific community through strategic links with array industries. Arrays will also beimportant for future development of glyco-based diagnostics (e.g. in cancer) and personal medicine.