Synthetic Glycobiology: Parts, Systems, and Applications

ACS Synth Biol. 2020 Jul 17;9(7):1534-1562. doi: 10.1021/acssynbio.0c00210. Epub 2020 Jun 30.


Protein glycosylation, the attachment of sugars to amino acid side chains, can endow proteins with a wide variety of properties of great interest to the engineering biology community. However, natural glycosylation systems are limited in the diversity of glycoproteins they can synthesize, the scale at which they can be harnessed for biotechnology, and the homogeneity of glycoprotein structures they can produce. Here we provide an overview of the emerging field of synthetic glycobiology, the application of synthetic biology tools and design principles to better understand and engineer glycosylation. Specifically, we focus on how the biosynthetic and analytical tools of synthetic biology have been used to redesign glycosylation systems to obtain defined glycosylation structures on proteins for diverse applications in medicine, materials, and diagnostics. We review the key biological parts available to synthetic biologists interested in engineering glycoproteins to solve compelling problems in glycoscience, describe recent efforts to construct synthetic glycoprotein synthesis systems, and outline exemplary applications as well as new opportunities in this emerging space.

Keywords: glycoengineering; glycosyltransferase; protein glycosylation; synthetic glycobiology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Biotechnology
  • Fungi / metabolism
  • Glycosylation
  • Glycosyltransferases / metabolism
  • Plants / metabolism
  • Proteins / chemistry
  • Proteins / metabolism*
  • Synthetic Biology / methods*


  • Proteins
  • Glycosyltransferases