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Glycans - also known as carbohydrates, saccharides, or simply as sugars – are one of the four essential building blocks of life. Despite their enormous impact in biology with functions ranging from cell homeostasis, development, immunity, host defense or mediators of infectious processes, our current understanding of how these important processes are regulated and mechanistically executed, remain fragmented at best. Almost every infectious disease that affects humans and other animals involves glycans. All eukaryotic and prokaryotic cells carry a dense layer of glycans, the so-called glycocalyx which serves both, as a protection against infections but also as an entry point for many pathogens. Numerous bacteria and viruses make use of glycan-mediated adhesion to a cell as the first step of infection.

While today it is well-understood that glycans play a key role in the infection processes of bacteria and viruses, the underlying mechanisms are much less comprehended. So far most studies focus on single types of glycans, such as the glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), as e.g. binding partners for invasion. However, in the natural setting – the glycocalyx, the mucus, the extracellular matrix or plasma membrane – a multitude of glycans is present that interacts as an ensemble rather than single entities. Therefore, the goal of GlycoPathogens is to bring together scientists from different disciplines – chemistry, biology, virology, infectiology and immunology – to study the role(s) of glycan ensembles in adhesion and invasion processes of bacteria and viruses, not only looking at single glycans but at combinations and assemblies of different types of glycans.