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graphical representation of complex carbohydrates

Karen Allendoerfer ka143 at COLUMBIA.EDU
Mon Dec 1 16:22:25 EST 1997

Dear Glycoscientists, 

I am in the position of having to give talks about complex carbohydrates
to non-glycobiologists (developmental and neurobiologists).  I am trying
to explain LewisX and its expression pattern in the brain.  I have tried
two unsuccessful approaches so far to make slides showing carbohydrate
structures.  One is to write out the abbreviations of the structures,
such as Gal(beta1,4)GlcNAc- but people's eyes seem to glaze over when I
do this, and I've been told that slides like that lose the essential
structural point that one is trying to get across (for example, the
differences between a beta 1,3 and beta 1,4 linkage, or the presence of
a distal sialic acid).  People just don't take in that information when
it's written that way.

So I've also tried the regular chemical symbol approach, drawing
hexagons and boats and the like, with little OH's sticking out of them,
and little O's connecting them, and your average neurobiologist doesn't
seem to like that any better--I guess it brings to mind unpleasant
memories from Organic Chemistry class or something.  They look at the
slide, and again, don't seem to take in the information.

I've now been given the advice to use simplified "schematics," that is,
different shapes for different structures, something like a square for a
glucose, a circle for a sialic acid, a triangle for a fucose, and so on,
perhaps also using different colors for each sugar.  And to draw the
different shapes attached to one another at different angles or in
different places to represent the beta 1,3 vs. beta 1,4 linkages.  

Does this sound to anyone like it will work?  Is there already in the
literature some sort of agreed-upon simplified schema that I could use
rather than having to re-invent the wheel?  

How have others solved the problem of presenting their work to non-glyco
people in a way to overcome their biases against the complexities of the


Karen Allendoerfer

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