Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews vol:78 pages:372-417
Humans have been increasingly recognized as being superorganisms, living in close contact with a microbiota on all their mucosal surfaces. However, most studies on the human microbiota have focused on gaining comprehensive insights into the composition of the microbiota under different health conditions (e.g., enterotypes), while there is also a need for detailed knowledge of the different molecules that mediate interactions with the host. Glycoconjugates are an interesting class of molecules for detailed studies, as they form a strain-specific barcode on the surface of bacteria, mediating specific interactions with the host. Strikingly, most glycoconjugates are synthesized by similar biosynthesis mechanisms. Bacteria can produce their major glycoconjugates by using a sequential or an en bloc mechanism, with both mechanistic options coexisting in many species for different macromolecules. In this review, these common themes are conceptualized and illustrated for all major classes of known bacterial glycoconjugates, with a special focus on the rather recently emergent field of glycosylated proteins. We describe the biosynthesis and importance of glycoconjugates in both pathogenic and beneficial bacteria and in both Gram-positive and -negative organisms. The focus lies on microorganisms important for human physiology. In addition, the potential for a better knowledge of bacterial glycoconjugates in the emerging field of glycoengineering and other perspectives is discussed.