Sugars and Proteins: Getting It Together

  • Roslyn M. Bill
  • Leigh Revers
  • Iain B. H. Wilson


The discovery of major roles for carbohydrates in biology is far from a recent development. Indeed, our knowledge of the existence of the simple sugars found in natural foodstuffs, such as honey, and their use in the fermenting process is as old as civilised man himself. Moreover, beer- and wine-making is by far the earliest practical exploitation of any biological transformation. However, following the advent of modern science and the triumphant elucidation of the pathways of carbohydrate metabolism during the first half of the twentieth century (and of the defects responsible for many of the associated human disorders, such as galactosaemia, shortly afterwards), sugars were prematurely consigned to the margins of scientific research. By the spring of 1953, amid a flurry of activity, Francis Crick and James Watson had unveiled their proposed structure for DNA,1 heralding an unprecedented sea-change in scientific thinking and providing scientists with a new focus. Unfortunately, in contrast to the ‘life molecule,’ carbohydrates continued to hold little appeal for the vast majority of scientists: after all, their structures and functions were at the time considered well-defined, and their biology, at best, unexciting. As Nathan Sharon, a pioneer in the field of glycoproteins, notably remarked in 1993, carbohydrates were long regarded as ‘second-class citizens’ of the cell.2 This is not to say that researchers failed to appreciate the fundamental importance of carbohydrates in living systems: organisms as diverse as bacteria and humans had been found to metabolise dietary sugars (be they simple sugars such as glucose, sucrose and lactose, or much larger carbohydrates like starch and cellulose) to provide energy, or, in the higher species, to appropriate them for the production of polysaccharides, a class of high molecular-weight carbohydrate polymers.


Sialic Acid Enzyme Commission Sugar Chain Protein Glycosylation Baby Hamster Kidney Cell 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Roslyn M. Bill
    • 1
  • Leigh Revers
    • 2
  • Iain B. H. Wilson
    • 3
  1. 1.The Lundberg LaboratoryUniversity of GöteborgGöteborgSweden
  2. 2.Department of Biochemistry ResearchThe Hospital for Sick ChildrenTorontoCanada
  3. 3.Department of Biochemistry ResearchUniversity of DundeeDundeeScotland

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