Functional Regulation of Proteins and Molecular Complexes by Sugar Chains
Launch of the Specified Study "Glycomics"
Koichi Furukawa, Research Field Representative, Nagoya University Graduate School of Medicine
The Specified Study supported by MEXT Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research on Priority Areas "Functional Regulation of Proteins and Molecular Complexes by Sugar Chains" ("Glycomics") was launched in 2002. Here, I would like to present an outline of the study group and the effects of the research project.

As genome information on many species including human has been disclosed, the importance of the elucidation of sugar chain functions, together with proteomics research, has been recognized more than ever as part of postgenome (sequence) research. Existing studies have demonstrated that biomolecules such as proteins and lipids have various functions as glycosylated glycoconjugates and that sugar chains play extremely important roles in many biological phenomena including development, differentiation, cancer, infection, inflammation, aging, degeneration, reproduction and regeneration. It is a great pleasure as well as encouragement for glycoscientists that the research project was approved and supported in a time when biology is being greatly advanced. Approval for this project also raises expectations for the elucidation of sugar chain functions that is indispensable for progress in biology.

The primary factor in the recent advances in sugar chain biology is the successful gene cloning of glycosylation enzymes. The roles of sugar chains have clearly been demonstrated in genetic engineering experiments. Remodeling of sugar chains in cells and glyco-gene knock-out have become routine experimental maneuvers, making it possible to take more extensive and flexible approaches than ever in drawing up experiment plans. Japanese researchers have made tremendous contributions in the cloning race of glycosylation enzyme genes (about half of the gene cloning has been done by them), demonstrating the traditionally high level of carbohydrate research in Japan. Several hurdles remain to be cleared in the process of integrating the elucidation of sugar chain functions by taking advantage of the gene cloning results. However, emphasis should ultimately be placed on the elucidation of the roles of sugar chains that will be accepted universally by biologists. The solidity of the infrastructure for the study of the natural sciences in Japan is questionable for post-gene cloning advancement of glyco biology. The infrastructure here is insufficient compared to that of the U.S. and EU. Our basic challenges in the future will be to reinforce coordination among researchers in the relevant research fields and to advance the analysis targets from intercellular actions to intermolecular actions in order to further our efforts in analyzing both carbohydrate functions and the functions of glycoconjugate molecules. The energy of young researchers is able and willing to make new attempts by thinking outside the box with free ideas is required to meet these challenges. By not being bound to the category of "glycoscientists," the specified Study Group is hoping to establish a research infrastructure to create an environment in which ever more exciting research can be conducted internally and intense discussions can be held externally.

Since the turn of the century, "Establishment of Glycosylation-related Gene Library" project of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has been under way in the sugar chain study field, and the Strategic/Creative Study Project was launched at almost the same time. We hope to enhance the activities of the research groups by effectively promoting cooperation and coordination among the sugar chain study projects including future ones. We wish all research participants good luck in their activities and would appreciate support from all those in relevant fields.

Contact: Koichi Furukawa
Department of Biochemistry II, Research Field Representative, Nagoya University Graduate School of Medicine
Fax 052-744-2069; Tel 052-744-2070; E-mail