About Dr. Pamela A. Marino

Pamela handles glycobiology and molecular immunology portfolios, serves as the program officer for the NIGMS glycomics glue grant and is a member of the steering committee for the NIH Alliance of Glycobiologists for Detection of Cancer and Cancer Risk. Her intramural duties include serving as co-director of the NIGMS Postdoctoral Research Associate Program and chairing the NIH Glycobiology Scientific Interest Group steering committee.

A Roadmap for Glycoscience

The National Research Council of the National Academies has released a report titled Transforming Glycoscience: A Roadmap for the Future Exit icon. The report was sponsored by several NIH institutes, including NIGMS, along with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy. It was prepared by the Committee on Assessing the Importance and Impact of Glycomics and Glycosciences Exit icon, chaired by David Walt of Tufts University.

The committee was charged to “articulate a unified vision for the field on glycoscience and glycomics” and to “develop a roadmap with concrete research goals to significantly advance [them].”

Their major recommendations are that NIH, NSF, DOE and other relevant stakeholders place a high priority on the development of:

  • Transformative methods for the facile synthesis of carbohydrates and glycoconjuates;
  • Transformative tools for the detection, imaging, separation and high-resolution structure determination of carbohydrate structures and mixtures; and
  • Transformative capabilities for perturbing carbohydrate and glycoconjugate structure, recognition, metabolism and biosynthesis.

The report also supports the development of:

  • Robust, validated informatics tools to enable accurate carbohydrate and glycoconjugate structural prediction, computational modeling and data mining. This capability will broaden access of glycoscience data to the entire scientific community.
  • A long-term-funded, stable, integrated, centralized database that includes mammalian, plant and microbial carbohydrates and glycoconjugates and has links to other databases. The deposition of new structures using a reporting standard should be required.
  • Integration of the glycosciences into the science curriculum.

While NIGMS has a long history of investment in the glycosciences, including funding for the Consortium for Functional Glycomics glue grant Exit icon and the development of methods and tools required for a full glycomics effort, the report sets an ambitious pace that would require a broad, multidisciplinary, multi-agency effort. It’s possible that the report may help guide the development of future NIH initiatives in the areas identified.

Gerald Hart, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a member of the committee that prepared the report, will brief the NIGMS Advisory Council of its findings at its September meeting. NAS staff involved in developing the report will also be in attendance to respond to questions.

New Resource to Address Glycoscience Bottlenecks

There are over 750 human enzymes dedicated to glycan synthesis, catabolism and recognition. They include glycosyltrasferases (GTs) and glycoside hydrolases (GHs). While there is tremendous demand for these enzymes in the scientific community, few are available in sufficient quantities for synthetic purposes or for structural/functional studies. Not surprisingly, glyco-enzymes are exceptionally underrepresented in the Protein Data Bank.

To help overcome these bottlenecks, NIGMS is partnering with NIH’s National Center for Research Resources to provide a two-year Recovery Act supplement to the NCRR-sponsored Resource for Integrated Glycotechnology at the University of Georgia. The center will draw additional expertise from investigators at the University of Arizona and University of Wyoming to generate libraries of gateway and expression vectors for glyco-enzymes. The gateway and expression libraries for these enzymes will begin to be made available to the scientific community over the next few months.

The team also will work to express and distribute a subset of these enzymes. Your input for this expression effort is welcome. Please direct inquiries regarding these vectors/enzymes to Kelley Moremen.

This new repository for mammalian GT and GH libraries will speed expansion of the chemical space for carbohydrates as well as speed structural and biochemical studies of these enzymes. The resource should benefit multiple scientific communities and accelerate progress on both the basic biology of the enzymes and their use for development of screening tools (arrays), diagnostics and therapeutics.

The GT and GH expression vectors libraries also may be a useful resource for researchers planning to respond to the upcoming PSI:Biology program announcements mentioned in an earlier post.