Research

Glycans densely cover the surface of all life forms. Polysaccharide-rich cell walls enable plants to thrive in a remarkable range of environments and are the most abundance source of renewable materials on Earth. Although they are essential for the health and energy needs of our civilization, carbohydrate polymers remain challenging to make and modify compared to other classes of molecules such as proteins. To uncover the genetic blueprints for plant glycans, Dr. Cătălin Voiniciuc and the Designer Glycans team apply innovative synthetic biology tools in several model systems.

July 2022 Update – The Designer Glycans lab at the University of Florida is ready to expand and we are recruiting students and scientists at all levels to join us in 2022 or 2023. Funding is available immediately so apply now!

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Research overview

The mission of the Designer Glycans group is to gain fundamental knowledge into plant glycan function, synthesis, and modification. Mechanistic insights in these areas, coupled with advances in synthetic biology, will enable the assembly of sugar units into tailor-made polysaccharides with desirable agricultural or industrial properties.

The Designer Glycans lab uses several approaches (natural variation, reverse genetics and synthetic biology) to discover enzymes and chemical mediators that establish and modulate cellulose-hemicellulose networks in plants. We primarily focus on heteromannan, an ancient class of hemicellulose that is found throughout the plant kingdom. Polymers built of β-1,4-linked mannose units are particularly abundant in algae, legumes, and conifers. From ice cream to cosmetics, many products contain legume-extracted galactomannans as stabilizers.