Dr. Al Boraston


Research of Dr. Alisdair Boraston

The recognition of carbohydrates by proteins is a biological phenomenon of fundamental importance. It is critical to numerous events including cell and glycoprotein trafficking, host-pathogen interactions, cell-cell adhesion, cell-wall remodelling, and plant cell wall biomass recycling. An understanding of how carbohydrates are recognized by proteins is central to designing programs aimed at manipulating these processes to our benefit.
My areas of research focus on three general themes of carbohydrate-protein interactions: 1) fundamental work on mechanisms of carbohydrate recognition, 2) the role of carbohydrate-protein recognition in host pathogen interactions (e.g. adhesion of cell surfaces and bacterial toxin delivery) and 3) the interaction of enzymes with biotechnologically relevant carbohydrates such as cellulose and starch.
The first theme is critical to understanding how carbohydrates are recognized by proteins. Ultimately, this will be relevant to informing the design and/or screening of carbohydrate therapeutics. Carbohydrate-based drugs are currently used in a number of therapies including, but not limited to, anti-biotics, anti-diabetics, anti-virals, anti-toxins, cancer treatments, and anti-inflammatories.
The second theme is related directly to the role of carbohydrate recognition in microbial pathogenesis. It has long been known that carbohydrate recognition is involved in bacterial toxin delivery and bacterial adhesion. Identification and characterization of carbohydrate recognition in these events may lead to treatments of diseases caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Salmonella enterica, Vibrio cholerae, and species of Clostridium.

Microbes produce a number of enzymes that are active plant cell wall polysaccharides, such as cellulose and mannans, and storage polysaccharides, such as starch. Cellulose is heavily used in the textile industry while starch is important to both the food and textile industry. Furthermore, the microbial enzymes that are active on these polysaccharides are also of immense importance to the industries dealing with these polysaccharides. The last theme deals with the recognition of biotechnologically relevant carbohydrates by the catalytic and substrate-binding modules of microbial enzymes. Such studies hold the potential to yield unprecedented control over the enzymatic modification of polysaccharides in industry.