Ben Schumann
Precision tools and carbohydrates

Ben Schumann

Episode 16 of the Modern Chemistry podcast dives back into glycobiology and its practical application with Benjamin Schumann. Ben is a chemical biologist who studies the biology of carbohydrates (glycans). After completing his undergraduate biochemistry studies in Tübingen, Germany, he was trained in synthetic carbohydrate chemistry in the lab of Peter H. Seeberger at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces Potsdam and the FU Berlin.

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Our theme music is “Wholesome” by Kevin MacLeod
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Developing vaccines against pathogenic bacteria based on synthetic glycans, Ben learned to apply his compounds in biological settings in vivo and in vitro. For his achievements, he received the Award for Excellence in Glycosciences and, in 2017, the prestigious Otto Hahn Medal by the Max Planck Society.

During his postdoctoral work in the lab of Carolyn R. Bertozzi at Stanford University as an Alexander von Humboldt foundation Feodor Lynen fellow, Ben developed an interest in “precision tools” to study glycosylation of human cells in great detail. He started as a Group Leader at the Crick and Imperial College London in 2018.

Towards the end of the show, Ben mentions a prize. Ben and colleagues from Imperial College and Stanford University were awarded the Royal Society of Chemistry’s new Chemistry Biology Interface Division Horizon Prize, the Rita and John Cornforth Award. More details on this can be found on the Francis Crick Institute’s website.

Terms used during interview

  • Glycobiology – the study of complex sugar molecules in biological systems and cells.
  • Glycobiome/glycoproteome – the total glycan make-up of a cell or organism
  • Glycosylation – the addition of sugar molecules to other substances, often proteins.
  • Glycans – complex sugar molecules composed of single sugar sub-units linked by chemical bonds
  • Chemical biology – the application of chemical techniques, and often small molecules produced by chemistry to study biological processes.
  • Biochemistry – the study of biomolecules and pathways in living systems
  • Lectins – highly specific carbohydrate-binding proteins
  • Antibody – a ‘Y’-shaped protein produced by the immune system which identifies and binds to a specific substance
  • Monosaccharide – a single sugar subunit
  • Bioorthogonal chemistry – a chemical reaction that occurs in a living system without interfering with natural biochemistry
  • Glycosyl transferase – enzymes which add a sugar (simple or complex) to an acceptor molecule
  • Chemoenzymatic synthesis – producing chemical using biochemical pathways within cells
  • CRISPR – CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, a family of specific DNA sequences in prokaryotes. Enzymes, such as ‘Cas9’ can modify DNA at these CRISPR sequences, editing in or out new DNA sequences. Although this technique is known correctly as CRISPR-Cas9, the discovery and development of a range of CRISPR-associated enzymes has led to the term ‘CRISPR’ being used as a generic term for this suite of gene editing technologies.
  • Isoenzymes – enzymes that catalyse the same reaction, but have different amino acid sequences
  • Proteolytic digest – breaking up a protein, or peptide, chain into smaller fragments
  • Fluorophore – a fluorescent molecule (in this case, used as a reporter molecule)
  • Biotin tag – a chemical molecule used as a reporter for other biomolecules
  • Bio-organic chemistry – scientific studies combining organic chemistry and biochemistry, which studies biological processes using chemical methods.

If you want to know more information Ben’s Lab page at Francis Crick Institute is a great starting point, alternatively you can find him on LinkedIn and Twitter.