Synthetic Glycobiology: Parts, Systems, and Applications

Weston Kightlinger, Katherine F. Warfel, Matthew P. Delisa, Michael C. Jewett*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1534-1562
Number of pages29
JournalACS synthetic biology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 17 2020


  • glycoengineering
  • glycosyltransferase
  • protein glycosylation
  • synthetic glycobiology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (miscellaneous)


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