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Sugars are fundamental to all living cells. Although glycans can make significant contributions to human health, energy and materials science, this class of molecules has received relatively little attention compared to nucleic acids and proteins. Glycans are also more challenging to study since their structures show far greater diversity and complexity. Plant cells are shaped and strengthened by carbohydrate-rich walls, and can thus survive in a wide range of aqueous and terrestrial environments. Since wall polysaccharides make up the bulk of the plant biomass, they represent the most abundant renewable resource on Earth. In addition, cell walls are dynamic structures and play many critical functions throughout the plant life cycle. The Designer Glycans lab addresses three outstanding questions in the field of glycobiology:
i) What are the control points for the elongation of polysaccharide backbones?
ii) What modulates the decoration of polysaccharides with specific branches?
iii) How do remodelled glycans impact the cell wall architecture and function?
Advances in these areas will not enhance our fundamental knowledge of plant biochemistry, but will also pave the way for the assembly of sugar units into tailor-made polysaccharides with desirable properties for industrial applications.