Presented by The University of Manchester, Imperial College London, University of Liverpool, John Innes Centre and University of Leeds

Christopher Gray
Manchester Institute of Biotechnology, School of Chemistry, The University of Manchester

Dr Claire Eyers
Senior Lecturer and Acting Director of the Michael Barber Centre for Mass Spectrometry, Manchester Institute of Biotechnology, School of Chemistry, The University of Manchester

Dr Hannah Roberts
Manchester Institute of Biotechnology, School of Chemistry, The University of Manchester

Professor Sabine Flitsch
Professor of Chemical Biology, Manchester Institute of Biotechnology, School of Chemistry, The University of Manchester

Sugars provide the building blocks of life, and most of the Earth’s biomass. Carbohydrates such as sucrose, starch, pectin, alginate and cellulose provide energy for living cells and are important molecules in food and medicines. Yet they also play a key role in how cells communicate with each other. Cells are coated with a sugar-rich layer called the glycocalyx. Scientists have recently discovered this layer helps control intercellular communication, from fertilisation to the body’s response to infection and cancer.

  See the scientists explain the science behind their exhibit in the video above, produced by students from Imperial College: Sam Tracey, Tim Cockerill and Andy Mehigan

How it works

This exhibit will demonstrate how the study of these sugars can help improve many aspects of our lives from producing renewable energy and materials to generating new medicines. Understanding the glycocalyx and its interaction with other molecules will provide a wide range of opportunities for the development of new foods, medicines and healthcare treatments.

How cell sugars interact with foreign molecules have applications in a variety of areas, including improving human fertilisation therapies, developing anti flu medicines and diagnostic tools, and creating new anti-cancer treatments. Identifying the difference in glycocalyx between cells can help scientists distinguish between pandemic, seasonal and bird flu and develop the correct therapies for flu outbreaks.  As the glycocalyx also differs between individuals, it provides a method for producing advanced diagnostic tools for personalised medicines.

Cell invaders Game

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Play Cell invaders, a puzzle-action game to defend a cell from attack.

Follow the instructions to install Unity web player (Windows or Mac OS X) if needed. You can play in full-screen mode by right-clicking in the game.

Lead Image: Binding of egg and sperm using cell surface sugars