Sugars are the most stereochemically intricate family of biomolecules and present substantial challenges to anyone trying to understand their nomenclature, reactions or branched structures. Current crystallographic programs provide an abstraction layer allowing inexpert structural biologists to build complete protein or nucleic acid model components automatically either from scratch or with little manual intervention. This is, however, still not generally true for sugars. The need for carbohydrate-specific building and validation tools has been highlighted a number of times in the past, concomitantly with the introduction of a new generation of experimental methods that have been ramping up the production of protein-sugar complexes and glycoproteins for the past decade. While some incipient advances have been made to address these demands, correctly modelling and refining carbohydrates remains a challenge. This article will address many of the typical difficulties that a structural biologist may face when dealing with carbohydrates, with an emphasis on problem solving in the resolution range where X-ray crystallography and cryo-electron microscopy are expected to overlap in the next decade.
Keywords: carbohydrates; conformation; glycosylation; restraints; validation.