Research

Welcome to the website of the Designer Glycans independent research group at the Leibniz Institute of Plant Biochemistry in Halle (Germany).

Our group is generously funded by IPB Halle and DFG.

In the coming months, our team will transition to the University of Florida, where Cătălin Voiniciuc will be an Associate Professor in Synthetic Biology.

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Research overview

Glycans densely cover the surface of all life forms. Although carbohydrates are essential for our health, energy and materials needs, these complex molecules have received relatively little attention compared to nucleic acids and proteins. Most of the organic biomass on Earth is stored in polysaccharide-rich walls, which enable plants to thrive in a remarkable range of environments. The Designer Glycans group seeks mechanistic insight into plant glycan function, synthesis, and modification. Advances in these areas will enhance our fundamental knowledge of plant biochemistry and pave the way for 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.