Oligosaccharides are carbohydrates whose molecules are composed of a small number of sugars. There is a growing commercial interest for oligosaccharides for use in healthcare and personal care, however, there are issues involved with the preparation and purification of them, to achieve the right chain length and structure. This results in a key bottleneck in the commercial production of oligosaccharides. The project looked to provide a platform for the downstream processing of the carbohydrates

The Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC) is a specialist in the IB sector, with a deep embedded knowledge and the technical expertise to help stimulate the growth and success of the IB industry in Scotland. GlycoMar Limited based in Oban, is a specialist biotechnology company discovering and developing new therapeutic products from marine resources, with a unique focus and expertise on novel polysaccharide products. The Centre helped to pair experts at GlycoMar with academics at the University of Edinburgh and Heriot Watt University to develop a solution for easily producing and purifying oligosaccharides and provided funding to kick-start the project.

The main objective was the development of a scalable platform to process and prepare oligosaccharides products from their polysaccharide sources. To inform this, the research team studied depolymerisation reaction methods in one marine animal tissue and one microalgae polysaccharide.

Exploring depolymerisation
In order to obtain oligosaccharides, polysaccahrides must be broken down into monomers using chemical processes - depolymerisation. There are many different techniques to achieve this, but the project team used beta-elimination for the animal tissues and photochemical for the microalgae product. A third method was removed due to time constraints and relevance.

Project success
Key deliverables for this project included:
• Optimised scalable methods for depolymerisation of selected polysaccharides
• Optimised scalable platform method for purification of oligosaccharide fractions
• Optimised NMR methodology for monitoring of the depolymerisation and purification of oligosaccharides obtained from naturally occurring polysaccharides

In summary
This project has taken major steps towards providing a tool kit of scalable methods for the production of oligosaccharides. This is possible using widely applicable depolymerisation techniques, which are not dependent on availability of unusual industrial enzymes.

GlycoMar gained a significant new partner in Heriot Watt University and further extended its relationship with the University of Edinburgh, broadening the academic expertise available to the organisation. This is of critical importance in the development of further products, helping to establish GlycoMar as one of the world’s leading glycobiology companies. This partnership element would be hard to achieve without the initial networking support from IBioIC.

The project also contributes to the development of the knowledge economy in Scotland by enhancing industry – academic collaboration, generating industrially relevant technology and providing new research challenges for the academic science base.

While the project was very successful, the next step would be to repeat at increased scale of the depolymerisations. This will be required in order to produce increased amounts of material for downstream processing and to apply this methodology commercially. Purification methods of oligosaccharides were also explored towards the end of the project, which could be continued in a second phase project.