The most abundant biological materials on our planet are composed of carbohydrates. These glycomaterials are integral to our daily lives and part of the field of study known as glycosciences.

To accelerate glycomaterials research in the United States, in 2020 the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded nearly $23 million to a new multi-university partnership, jointly led by Virginia Tech and the University of Georgia, that will bring together leading scientists and engineers from those institutions, as well as Brandeis University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, to establish a national glycomaterials research hub.

The new research hub, called GlycoMIP, will address nationwide bottlenecks in glycomaterial synthesis, computer modeling, material characterization, and knowledge sharing through groundbreaking research and a unique national user facility that will provide critical tools and services to the scientific community.

“We think of glycomaterials broadly as any material or molecule that contains carbohydrates,” said Maren Roman, the director of GlycoMIP. “Understanding the functions and properties of natural glycomaterials will allow us to develop new synthetic technologies that mimic the biology of glycomaterials.”

GlycoMIP supports research on both natural and artificial glycomaterials through a unique national user facility with state-of-the-art instrumentation housed in the Fralin Life Sciences Institute at Virginia Tech and the Complex Carbohydrate Research Center (CCRC) at the University of Georgia.

The GlycoMIP team recently celebrated the grand opening of its national user facility with ribbon cutting ceremonies in February at Virginia Tech and at the University of Georgia.

“Building the GlycoMIP national user facility during a pandemic has been challenging and taken longer than we hoped,” said Roman, who is also an associate professor in the Department of Sustainable Biomaterials in the College of Natural Resources and Environment. “But now we are ready and excited to welcome researchers, both novice and experienced, to our facilities and support them in their research endeavors.”

A giant machine, which has a blue piece of glass on it.
GlycoMIP houses the only two commercially available Automated Glycan Assembly instruments in the United States. The Glyconeer instruments can rapidly produce glycans and help drive the field of glycoscience forward. Photo by Kendall Daniels for Virginia Tech.

The GlycoMIP user facility houses two automated glycan synthesizers from GlycoUniverse and is the only facility in the country able to provide on-demand glycan synthesis and characterization. Other instrumentation of note are two state-of-the-art mass spectrometers, two vibrational optical activity spectrometers, and a microfluidic-based surface plasmon resonance instrument.

“Visitors to the GlycoMIP user facility at Virginia Tech may take advantage of the synergistic proteomics and glycomics capabilities located at Steger Hall in the Fralin Life Sciences Institute,” said X.J. Meng, University Distinguished Professor and interim executive director of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute. “We are thrilled to help support this national user facility on the Virginia Tech campus.”

Five people stand behind a red piece of ribbon, each holding a pair of scissors.
GlycoMIP will make widely available to researchers the resources at UGA’s Complex Carbohydrate Research Center, one of the world’s leading research institutions for glycoscience. Shown here (left to right) are CCRC co-directors Michael Tiemeyer and Al Darvill; CCRC Analytical Services Director Parastoo Azadi; GlycoMIP Associate Director Rob Woods; and UGA Vice President for Research Karen Burg. Photo credit: Amy Ware for UGA Office of Research.

“At [the University of Georgia], GlycoMIP users may take advantage of the sophisticated mass spectrometry, NMR spectroscopy, and biolayer interferometry capabilities located at the Complex Carbohydrate Research Center, as well as state-of-the art computer modeling services,” said Rob Woods, associate director of GlycoMIP.

A woman is looking into a piece of scientific equipment.
GlycoMIP-funded Orbitrap Eclipse Tribrid Mass Spectrometer operated by Lauren Pepi, postdoctoral associate in the Azadi laboratory at the University of Georgia, which is being used for structural characterization of glycopolymers at the user facility. Photo by Amy Ware for UGA Office of Research.

Other research facilities accessible to users of the GlycoMIP user facility include the Virginia Tech Materials Characterization Lab and Nanoscale Characterization and Fabrication Lab and the CCRC’s NMR facility. “Bridging the gap between glycobiology and materials research can only occur if the tools and resources needed for both endeavors are co-housed and consistently supported. The Materials Innovation Platforms, or MIPs, established by the NSF, allow that to occur. It is an exciting time for glycan-based research,” said Rich Helm, director of the GlycoMIP User Facility at Virginia Tech and director of Core Services at the Fralin Life Sciences Institute.

A woman in a green shirt stands between two men in suits.
GlycoMIP User Facility team members at Virginia Tech (from left to right) Brady Hall, technical manager – glycomaterials; Lauren Mills, program coordinator; and Ryan Porell, technical manager – glycobiology, support the scientific and operations needs of all facility users. Photo by Tyler Harris for Virginia Tech.

“The GlycoMIP user facility is part of the Materials Genome Initiative, an effort where data sharing, tool and community development are emphasized,” said Dan Sui, senior vice president of Research and Innovation at Virginia Tech. “This is a great opportunity to develop and advance technologies that will provide benefits to our local community, state, country, and the world. I am excited to see GlycoMIP flourish.”

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