Background: Most proteins are glycosylated, with glycans being integral structural and functional components of a glycoprotein. In contrast to polypeptides, which are fully encoded by the corresponding gene, glycans result from a dynamic interaction between the environment and a network of hundreds of genes.
Scope of review: Recent developments in glycomics, genomics and epigenomics are discussed in the context of an evolutionary advantage for higher eukaryotes over microorganisms, conferred by the complexity and adaptability which glycosylation adds to their proteome.
Major conclusions: Inter-individual variation of glycome composition in human population is large; glycome composition is affected by both genes and environment; epigenetic regulation of "glyco-genes" has been demonstrated; and several mechanisms for transgenerational inheritance of epigenetic marks have been documented.
General significance: Epigenetic recording of acquired characteristics and their transgenerational inheritance could be important mechanisms used by higher organisms to compete or collaborate with microorganisms.
Keywords: Adaptation; Epigenetics; Evolution; Glycosylation.
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