The term glycomics is derived from the chemical prefix for sweetness or a sugar, "glyco-", and was formed to follow the naming convention established by genomics (which deals with genes) and proteomics (which deals with proteins). The definition of glycomics has evolved to cover a range of scientific disciplines that are applied to study the structure and function of carbohydrates (sugars) in biological systems.
The nine common sugars found in mammalian cells can be combined in a myriad number of ways to form complex carbohydrate structures (glycans). The glycan repertoire (glycome) of a given cell or organism is thus many orders of magnitude more complex than the genome or the proteome.
The rapid advance of enabling technologies such as high-throughput mass spectroscopy, glycan microarrays and carbohydrate chemistry are helping to unravel the complexity resulting from this diversity. Bioinformatics technologies will be increasingly important in managing and integrating the diverse data sets from the different technologies.
The emerging field of glycomics is gathering momentum to earn its place alongside other established 'omics fields such as genomics and proteomics, as envisioned by experts in the field.