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Synthetic Sugar

Raymond Lemieux and George Huber were the first in the world to synthetically produce sucrose or common table sugar in 1953. This groundbreaking work was accomplished at the National Research Council’s Prairie Regional Laboratory in Saskatoon, a facility on the University of Saskatchewan campus now known as the Plant Biotechnology Institute (PBI). This sucrose synthesis was a foundation event in stereochemistry. Sugars are found virtually everywhere in living systems, and their shape determines what they do: sugars on the surface of cells, for example, determine blood type, and act as receptors for cell signaling. These receptors are often “hijacked” by viruses and bacteria to invade our bodies and cause disease. Likewise, some antibiotics are based on complex sugars of just the right shape to block the receptors on the surfaces of bacteria and viruses. Practical applications of this synthesis range from tests for blood typing to antibody tests, vaccine development, and design of new medicines.

Joe Ralko

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