BSc Biochemistry with a Modern Language

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Glycobiology: Glycan Function in Health & Disease (E)

Course unit fact file
Unit code BIOL31321
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


Glycans provide important mechanisms for cell recognition, cell adhesion, growth factor signalling and extracellular matrix organisation. You will study the biology and pathobiology underlying processes such as mucosal protection against intestinal parasitic worms, trafficking of immune cells to sites of injury/infection and migration of tumour cells.



Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Proteins BIOL21111 Pre-Requisite Recommended
BIOL21162 Pre-Requisite Recommended
  • BIOL21111 Proteins (Recommended)
  • BIOL21162 Chemistry of Biomolecules (Recommended)


The unit will introduce students to the range of structures and cellular mechanisms of synthesis of protein-associated glycans. We aim for students to gain an understanding of the range of biological roles they play in cell and tissue functions in health and disease, and how these can be investigated at an experimental level.


Learning outcomes

Students will be able to:

• Understand the molecular diversity and widespread expression of protein-associated glycans

• Describe the structure and biosynthesis of the major groups of glycans

• Appreciate how glycosylation modulates the structure, properties and functions of proteins

• Understand the concept that glycans are key factors in biological recognition

• Understand the critical roles glycans play in fundamental cellular processes

·  Understand and apply tools for the determination of glycan content and function in biological systems

• Use experimental data to increase their knowledge of glycan structure and function and to enhance their problem-solving and analytical skills


• Structural diversity in glycans, polysaccharides, glycoproteins, proteoglycans.

• Mechanisms of biosynthesis and how manipulating biosynthesis gives insight into glycan function

• The range of biological functions to which glycosylation contributes

• Mucosal protection (innate immunity) against bacteria and parasites

• The Glycocalyx

• Trafficking of immune cells to sites of injury/infection and migration of tumour cells

• Cytoplasmic O-glycosylation, synthesis and function

• Cellular action, location and organization of glycosyltransferase enzymes for O-linked and N-linked glycan biosynthesis

• The role of N-linked glycosylation in protein folding and targeting

• Microbial glycobiology and its role in disease and disease prevention

• Disease models involving gene mutation and knockout in the N-linked glycan biosynthesis pathway

• Critical function of co-translational glycosylation on protein folding and secretion

• Specificity in glycosaminoglycan biosynthesis

• Generation and identification of selective protein binding sequences in glycosaminoglycans

• Roles in growth factor signalling

• Lessons to be learnt from knockouts and mutations

e-Learning Activity

The course will be supported by a Blackboard e-learning module and discussion boards.



Employability skills

Analytical skills
Problem solving - either in lecture or online.
Group/team working
Answering questions in special problem solving lectures.
These skills are needed for solving problems.
Oral communication
Students answer questions during the lecture and in 'problem solving' lectures.
Problem solving
Either in lecture or online.
Course associated extra reading.
Written communication
Essays in final exam.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 95%
Set exercise 5%

Feedback methods

2 hour 45 min remote synchronous written examination (95%) and coursework (5%). 

Written exam: The exam (95% of marks) will consist of 5 questions and students are required to answer two of these; each worth 50% of the available marks. 

Set exercise – Online coursework assessment: A problem-based eLearning exercise (5% of marks) on glycan structure consisting of 16 short questions (each worth between 3 and 10% of the available marks).

Feedback methods
Feedback will be provided directly via online discussion boards and through comments on directed self-assessments carried out by each student as part of e-learning activities and in-lecture problem solving sessions. A pre-exam ’revision’ session provides feedback on past exam questions. Post-exam feedback is offered to each student via a face to face meeting.

Recommended reading

No text book covers the entire unit. However, ‘Introduction to Glycobiology’ provides a good general background to many aspects of Glycobiology. ‘Essentials in Glycobiology’ provides more in-depth coverage of some aspects of the course.

Additional references will be given in lectures.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2.8
Lectures 18
Independent study hours
Independent study 79.2

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
David Thornton Unit coordinator

Return to course details