The Third Code

Everyone worries about the DNA code (4 symbols), then they worry about the amino acid code (20 symbols), but fewer worry about the sugar codes (hundreds of symbols). There are more sugar codes possible than amino acid codes for a fixed length message. The body uses DNA as the blueprint, amino acids for the parts, and sugars for the signals.  I want to know the code. I want to see the map. We can render some random sugar like ribofuranose, whose common name is "ribose". Ribose appears in DNA, RNA and ATP.

Some sugars are used only by insects, others appear in mushrooms. Sugars can be arranged in polymeric chains, and also in tree structures. Trees come up in linguistics as in parse trees. Trees also come up in forests. Trees are made of wood and wood is made mostly of cellulose the polymer. It's too bad we can't eat wood. I mean, you can, but nothing productive happens. You would think that wood would be sweeter! Termites have the enzyme to break it down to monomers of glucose. What makes wood stronger than cotton candy? Can you believe it is just a single bond? I know, its just too exciting. I would like to render every one of the glyco sugars at this kind of quality for CellWorld and show them in context.  For that I need your support…

But it is their code and language aspects that interest me most. Sequences of sugars not only form the basis of the lining of our joints, but form the basis by which cells talk to each other inside and out. Tell me how you really feel. This signaling aspect is important in normal growth and development . When this signaling is completely understood, it will be a lynch pin in the cancer drug discovery

Speaking of an exciting journey, I really like the carbohydrate database, and this morning’s journey included a most interesting sugar called sialic acid. Sialic acid is implicated in nervous system function in the brain.

For CellWorld™ I would like to have all the sugars rendered and placed in context; 212 human cell types, 30,000 genes, and don’t forget the birds, bees, flowers and trees.

As you know, I am interested in putting pure science on the silver screen and I think you are too. Fortunately I have had the chance to meet many extremely intelligent people who have dedicated their lives to these things. Thus I am working full time on CellWorld development. You are welcome to participate.


- Van


Thanks Angie. I enjoyed your article. Glycosylation is very interesting to me, because it is the third code that the body uses for marking things. Thus the short essay above. As you know, ABO blood type is determined by the sequence of sugars expressed in two million or so sites on the surface of every red cell. Little detail, big deal. Wrong code = death on a blood transfusion! Remember that girl that died in transplant? It all comes down to proteins adorned with sugars. Our whole immune system is built from a few primitives that when randomly spliced together, enable us to recognize over a billion different invaders, chemical, viral, and bacterial. Here is the mini-map.

Chromosome 6 à P arm à MHC à HLA à Tissue Typing à Person à Mom’s Haplotypes + Dad’s à Sugar Adorned Proteins.

Virtually every protein on the surface of a lymphocyte is glycosylated. Talk about code! There is a new consortium just to study FG - functional glycomics.  When you tug on this thread it leads to, everywhere! See neat animation here. I better take my Zocor!

Then the cancer thing. Turns out the HLA means that you can destroy your own cells if they are infected with certain viruses. Why .This can be very handy. Certain viruses cause cancer. Like the Wart Virus HPV16 is one of the hits in cervical cancer. And MMTV – mouse mammary tumor virus is a hit in breast cancer.  If we can tell the body to kill cells that carry these viruses, that could be a good thing. That might take down some cancer cells. If too many body cells carry these viruses, it could be a bad thing. Kill the virus, kill the patient.