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Carbohydrates are the oft-overlooked third major class of biological polymers. Though they have received much less notice than nucleic acids or proteins, they are just as essential for life. Complex sugars, or glycans, which are generally bound to proteins, coat the outsides of cells and fill the spaces between them. Crucial in normal animal development and in preventing many diseases, glycans appear to act as scaffolds that mediate interactions betweem proteins. The authors describe the progress made recently in identifying or "sequencing" polysaccharides, in understanding their functions and in beginning to exploit them in medicine.
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