Essentials of Glycobiology, Third Edition & New Glycan Website Now Available at NCBI


Glycobiology—the study of the structure, biosynthesis, biology, and evolution of glycans (the sugar chains synthesized by all living cells)—is a rapidly growing field in the natural sciences, with broad relevance to many areas of basic research, biomedicine, and biotechnology.

NCBI has two new glycobiology resources: the third edition of a definitive work in the field, Essentials of Glycobiology, and a new NCBI Glycans website that includes links to some useful external resources as well as the Symbol Nomenclature for Glycans (SNFG).

essentials of glycobiology

As with the first and second editions of Essentials of Glycobiology, the third edition is freely available on NCBI’s Bookshelf. The free online book, which was released simultaneously with a hardcopy version for sale by the publisher—Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press (CSHLP, NY)—is the result of collaboration with the book’s editors (the Consortium of Glycobiology Editors led by Dr. Ajit Varki, UC San Diego) and CSHLP. The Glycobiology Research and Training Center at the University of California San Diego (UC San Diego) and the Programs of Excellence in Glycoscience of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) also contributed resources towards the project. An early version of the book containing only the introduction and the SFNG was released on NCBI’s Bookshelf in October 2015.

The third edition has an expanded international editorial board and panel of contributing authors, representing a wider range of expertise than earlier editions. As with other editions, the book aims to provide a basic overview of glycobiology, directed toward the advanced undergraduate or the beginning graduate-level student of molecular and cellular biology and biomedicine. The third edition’s full text is elucidated by detailed illustrations, and glycan structures are standardized to use the Symbol Nomenclature for Glycans (SNFG).

Substantial changes and improvements in the new version include a broader focus on all lineages of life-forms in nature, a wider range of topics, ranging from biology and medicine to chemistry and materials science, and greater attention to informatics and exploration of the glycome. Additionally, readers of the online edition will have access to downloadable PowerPoint slides of every figure with links where applicable to the symbol nomenclature for glycans; also, there are online-only appendices for a subset of chapters, links to the glossary from within the text, and the full text is searchable.

With the release of the third edition, the Symbol Nomenclature for Glycans (SNFG) (formerly Appendix 1B in the limited version of the book that was released in October 2015) has been separated from the book in order to provide greater functionality and easy access for the user. The SFNG is now part of the new NCBI Glycans site, which is dedicated to resources and developments in this expanding field of biology.

NCBI developed the Glycans website based on interest from the scientific community. The new Glycans website currently contains the SNFG, links to software tools that support SNFG, and links to a variety of glycobiology-related databases and resources. Future developments to the website will be implemented based on the guidance of a Glycans Informatics Advisory Group and the SNFG page will be periodically updated as advised by the SNFG Discussion Group.

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