‘Sugar coatings’ on cells can help to safeguard your health


The University of Manchester will reveal how ‘sugar coatings’ on cells can help safeguard health at the New Scientist Live exhibition.

The University’s Manchester Institute of Biotechnology and the independent John Inness Centre are showcasing the ‘Complex Life of Sugars’ exhibit at a four-day festival organised by New Scientist, which is taking place until Sunday (September 25) at ExCeL in London.

"Sugars make up the majority of biomass on earth and are often used in the food and flavour industry,” explained exhibit co-organiser Dr Nicholas Weise, from the University’s Manchester Institute of Biotechnology. "However, it is less well known that complex structures made from sugar – known as glycans – decorate the surfaces of living systems such as viruses and cells in animals, plants and bacteria."

"It is these structures that allow recognition and signalling, such as the action of hormones or the recognition of invading pathogens by the immune system."

By understanding these interactions, scientists can develop new therapeutics, such as the sugar-mimic Tamiflu which stockpiled during the recent swine and bird flu epidemics. Tamiflu closely resembles the particular sugar used by the influenza virus to latch onto and enter certain cells for infection. As such, its presence in the body causes the virus to bind the drug instead of cells surfaces, making it an effective antiviral agent.
Dr Nicholas Weise

A research group at the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology, led by Professor Sabine Flitsch, focusses on the development of synthetic and analytical tools designed to allow scientists to construct and study medically-relevant glycans in the laboratory.

Through the development of novel techniques at the institute scientist are now closer to being able to understand the mechanisms of cell-cell and pathogen-host interactions and even synthesise molecules for the treatment of various conditions.

The interactive exhibit features a ‘cell invaders’ video game and enzyme experiments to detect sugars in different foodstuffs.The University of Manchester is also represented at New Scientist Live by climate change expert Professor Alice Bows-Larkin, who is sharing her views on how to cut carbon emissions, and immunologist Sheena Cruikshank, who is discussing whether cleanliness is a potential cause of allergies.

Rooted in the “biggest, best and most provocative science”, New Scientist Live aims to touch on all areas of human life. The show will feature four immersive zones covering Brain and Body, Technology, Earth and Cosmos.

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