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National Research Council (US) Committee on Assessing the Importance and Impact of Glycomics and Glycosciences. Transforming Glycoscience: A Roadmap for the Future. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2012.

Cover of Transforming Glycoscience

Transforming Glycoscience: A Roadmap for the Future.

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Although I was trained as a synthetic organic chemist and was involved in carbohydrate research early in my scientific career, my research has primarily been focused on developing new technologies for making analytical measurements. This work has led to the development and commercialization of some of the technologies that are presently used for the revolution in genetics and genomics that has taken place over the past decade. I have seen the transformation in scientific capability enabled by these new genetic tools. Access to both the tools and the public databases by virtually any scientist and engineer has democratized the field and has made genetic information an essential component of many fields of science. Science has benefitted tremendously, and many fields are decades ahead of where they would have been without these capabilities. In addition, genetic technologies are beginning to have a big impact on practical applications—diagnostics, therapeutics, and animal breeding to name a few. The economic benefit is in the billions of dollars per year and growing.

This study can be viewed as an opportunity to elevate the importance and possibilities of glycoscience, which is equally pervasive and certainly more directly linked to biological activity than genetics. For example, glycans are responsible for virtually all cell-cell recognition. Moreover, they play a central role in recent burgeoning biofuels efforts. But glycoscience has much more to offer, as described in this report. It was identifying these opportunities and providing a roadmap that was the challenge to the Committee on Assessing the Importance and Impact of Glycomics and Glycosciences.

The National Academies assembled a stellar group of glycoscientists for this committee. They came from disparate fields—biology, chemistry, and computer science—and work on equally diverse problems in fundamental biology, synthetic chemistry, health, energy, and materials science. I have been so impressed with the passion of these glycoscience committee members for their field. They have worked for many years to advance this important yet underappreciated area—and, despite my limited knowledge of the field, they welcomed me both as a colleague and a friend. It has been a genuine pleasure to work with this dedicated and passionate group of scientists. They have worked tirelessly to help advance the field and, more importantly, science in general with their contributions to this study and to this report. The community is indebted to their service.

The National Academies staff are the real heroes. In particular, Dr. Katherine Bowman and Dr. Douglas Friedman were essential to the success of this study. Katie and Doug pushed the committee to meet deadlines, dealt with the challenging logistics of committee members spanning 12 time zones, helped pull the report together, and worked tirelessly. Even with difficult deadlines, I never heard them complain. They brought ideas and creativity to the discussions. Their selfless dedication to science is admirable and should be a model for us all. In addition to Katie and Doug, Sheena Siddiqui and Rachel Yancey provided superb administrative support. I also want to thank Dr. Fran Sharples, director of the Board on Life Sciences, and Dr. Dorothy Zolandz, director of the Board on Chemical Sciences and Technology, for their support and vision.

This report has the potential to transform the field of glycoscience, but—more significantly—it should transform science in dramatic ways. Sugars are ubiquitous, and scientists in all fields will realize the full potential of their research only by embracing and incorporating glycoscience. The tools for realizing this potential are not available yet. It is the hope of the committee that this report will bring glycoscience into the scientific mainstream.

David Walt, Chair

Committee on Assessing the Importance and Impact of Glycomics and Glycosciences

Copyright © 2012, National Academy of Sciences.
Bookshelf ID: NBK115020


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