It’s all about sugars – creating computational and informatics tools for glycoscience

Categorised: ENGAGE, News, Newsletter

Glycans are complex carbohydrates (sugars) that cover the surface of cells in all living organisms and play key roles in biological processes ranging from interacting with other cells to recognising and fighting pathogens.

Disease Glycomics and Glycoscience focuses on the roles that these glycans play in the development and progression of disease including cancer and infection. Continued advances in understanding the biological roles of glycans will contribute to the development of new drug targets, vaccines and diagnostics to treat, prevent or diagnose such diseases.

Glycoscience is multidisciplinary, including genomics, proteomics, cell biology, developmental biology and biochemistry. Because it is a relatively new field of study, progress has been hindered by the lack of databases and glycoinformatic tools that connect information from these related disciplines.

Dr Matthew Campbell (Research Fellow, Institute for Glycomics) has been leading the design and implementation of UniCarbKB and GlycoStore, and is a co-investigator of the NIH Glycoscience Common Fund supported project GlyGen - Computational and Informatics Tools for Research in Glycosciences.

To assist the glycosciences community, a new cross-disciplinary resource, GlyGen, is being developed to provide tools and data to address Glycoscience questions. With a user-friendly interface, it provides access to diverse international bioinformatics resources including Australia’s UniCarbKB. UniCarbKB, an online information storage and search platform for Glycomics and glycobiology research is an international effort led by the Institute for Glycomics in Australia and supported by the Australian Research Data Commons (ARDC) (formerly NeCTAR and ANDS).

"Our unique research expertise makes us the only institute of its kind in Australia and only one of a handful in the world. We seek to collaborate with leading scientists around the world to build a critical mass around this multidisciplinary research. Our mission is to fight diseases of global impact through discovery and translational science," said Professor Mark von Itzstein AO, Founder and Director of the Institute for Glycomics in Australia.

UniCarbKB, launched in 2012, and continuously improving since then, has recently completed a project funded by the ARDC to strengthen collaborations with international glycoinformatic and analytical communities to improve the use of data standards and common ontologies to describe data collections. This and other developments allow more productive ways to create new informatic and data science technologies, as well as complementing analytical techniques for tackling social challenges focused on health, demographic change and wellbeing. 

Through integration with GlyGen, UniCarbKB further extends its opportunity to add value to this important international and national community of Glycoscience research, and potential improvements in next-generation drugs, vaccines and diagnostics.