ZICHRON YA'AKOV, Israel - Carbohydrates are becoming more than just "sweet talk" with the unveiling of Linear Code, the glycomics syntax-nomenclature of glycans and of the Glycodat database of some 2,500 encoded glycan sequences, both by Israeli start-up Glycominds Ltd. Glycans are complex carbohydrates that bind with more than 50 percent of human proteins, determining how they function.

"Hopefully, glycomics will help close the huge gaps between genomics, proteomics and drug discovery, and it will become increasingly evident that glycomics will be as revolutionary as genetic engineering, gene therapy and the mapping of the human genome," said Nir Dotan, who with Avinoam Dukler co-founded Glycominds in Maccabim in 1999.

Glycominds presented this first comprehensive bioinformatics treatment of glycans at the Glycobiology 2000 Conference in Boston Nov. 8-11, unveiling its interactive web site, www.glycominds.net.

Linear Code is designed to be a user-friendly encoding syntax and nomenclature that allows complex and diverse sugars to be classified systematically, including their branching, linkage and/or terminal modifications, a heretofore insurmountable feat.

Dotan and Dukler expect that the simplicity of the Linear Code, "which rivals the ease with which proteins can be coded in amino acids and thence speedily analyzed by computer . . . will allow these molecules to take their place alongside genes and proteins in bioinformatics for drug discovery." They hope that scientists will be tempted to add to Glycodat, to use Glyder, Glycominds' advanced algorithm and computer program, to perform structural comparisons of the thousands of glycans with known functions in the research community.

"Glyder not only elucidates chemical structure into Linear Code, but also identifies similar elements, to present an overall comparative score representing the glycans' relationships," said Dotan. But both Dotan and Dukler, Glycominds' CEO, emphasize that glycomics is bioinformatics and is completely unlike the "carbohydrates as drugs" approach. Dotan and Duckler coined the glycomics terminology, first using it in the company business plan in January 1999, then registering the domain glycomics.com in May 1999.

Interest in the potential of glycans in bioinformatics is growing. During the Glycobiology 2000 meeting, a call for membership in the newly formed Consortium for Functional Glycomics was announced. Support for the broad-based effort comes from the U.S. National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

Dukler and Dotan estimate that glycomics "will enable pharmaceutical companies to save millions of dollars and years of time by investing in drug targets and drug candidates with a good chance of success, rather than in dead-end drugs or those that work in animals but not in humans."

Referring to an October report in Nature Biotechnology estimating that the bioinformatics market will grow to around $7.5 billion (mostly in pharmacogenomics and biochips) in 2002, Dukler said, "We are estimating that glycomics companies will take 10 percent of this market in 2002, and more than 30 percent in 2005."