The group on Carbohydrates and Polysaccharides was founded officially in September 2010. The general theme of the work group is to investigate specific aspects of so-called glycans: these are carbohydrate (sugar-) modifications of proteins and lipids. They can influence the stiffness of membranes, take part in inter-cell communication and trafficking as well as regulate the stability or solubility of proteins, just to name a few examples of many possible biological roles. How glycans function in detail, however, is still unknown in the majority of cases. They typically consist of up to 30 monosaccharide units, but in contrast to proteins they can also be branched and potentially exist in a multitude of possible conformations. This polymorphism makes their experimental investigation rather difficult, and atomistic modeling can provide important clues about glycan structure and dynamics.
A preliminary objective is to study the behaviour of glycans at the atomistic level as accurately as possible. What does, for instance, the flexibility of many oligosaccharides really mean or imply? A further objective is to find ways how to code this molecular scale information into effective, coarse-grain models: can we access the heterogeneity of a class of glycans? Finally, is there a possibility to boil the properties and functions of glycans down to a level as to make them accessible to theory? These are the central questions guiding our research.