Prof. Valentin Wittmann, professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Constance is investigating carbohydrates. At present, his major area of interest is carbohydrate-RNA and carbohydrate-protein interactions, where he is trying to understand the biological functions of complex sugar molecules (glycans).
The techniques developed by Prof. Wittmann and his team can be applied in numerous areas. For example, lectins are involved in bacterial or viral infections as they are components of cell membranes, i.e. they are located on the surface of bacteria and viruses. They dock to suitable glycans on the surface of the host cell and infect the cell. Influenza viruses also use this mechanism to infect their prey. New drugs might open up new strategies for disarming or for identifying the pathogens. The Constance researchers are not only focused on potential applications, but also on the further development of synthesis methods such as glycosylation reactions, new ligation reactions or methods for the presentation of carbohydrate chips. New methods can be used to deal with new issues and problems. That is why the close cooperation of chemists and biologists is so important, in particular in interdisciplinary research projects touching common ground between chemistry and biology. The University of Constance realised the importance of this as long as five years ago and established an interdisciplinary life science course, jointly coordinated by the departments of chemistry and biology. Recently, the efforts of the University in this field were rewarded by the Chemical Biology graduate school being granted a place within the German government’s excellence initiative.