GlycoNet scientists help identify new way to regulate gene expression in animals

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By Chardelle Prevatt 

All animals adapt to their environment. One way animals achieve this is by changing the levels of the genes that they express. How animals modify gene expression is a topic of high interest that can help researchers understand how to promote favourable adaptations and avoid negative adaptations that can cause disease.

GlycoNet scientists David Vocadlo and Samy Cecioni, together with a team of researchers including lead author Ta-Wei Liu, studied the way proteins are modified in animals by a specialized sugar unit: O-linked N-acetylglucosamine or “O-GlcNAc.” Previous work from these researchers revealed that this sugar modification of proteins occurs on the genome, or the genetic material in an organism, and is essential for the proper development of animals.

Using the simple fruit fly as a model, the scientists developed a chemical method to map the locations of these sugar-modified proteins on the genome. In their recently published paper in Nature Chemical Biology, findings showed that these specialized sugars are scattered over a thousand different locations on the genome. Additionally, when this sugar modification occurs close to a gene, it regulates the extent to which the gene is expressed.

“Of course, there’s a lot more work to be done,” said Vocadlo. “However, results suggest that these sugar-modified proteins may be a common mechanism within animals that influences the expression of a large number of genes.”

Because sugar modification can fluctuate in humans based on blood sugar and nutrient levels, this research may have broad implications in clarifying how organisms adapt to changes in the availability of nutrients.

“Ultimately, we hope this work presents valuable insights into obesity and cancers, where nutrient availability changes dramatically,” Vocadlo added.

The full research paper can be found here.

About GlycoNet
The Canadian Glycomics Network (GlycoNet) is a pan-Canadian, multidisciplinary research network aiming to deliver solutions to important health issues and improve the quality of life of Canadians through the study of glycomics. GlycoNet is funded by the Networks of Centres of Excellence, a Government of Canada program that supports large-scale, academic-led research networks to build research capacity and accelerate the creation of new knowledge in a specific research area.

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