Sugars and viruses; the roles that carbohydrates can play in both viral infection and immune evasion

Lectures, talks and seminars

Registration is essential

Rutherford House, Lecture Theatre 1, 33 Bunny Street, Wellington.

Presented by


The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has raised public awareness of viruses to unprecedented levels. The world has waited with bated breath for the development of effective therapeutic strategies to combat the SARS-CoV-2 virus, hopeful that a vaccine would provide a solution when none had been immediately forthcoming to combat other recent virus pandemics, such as HIV, MERS, and SARS. Moreover, the influenza virus seems never to be too far away, with recent reports of new bird-flu outbreaks sweeping through domestic poultry populations in multiple countries, and the spectre of transmission to humans and a new flu pandemic lurking in the shadows.

Sugars/carbohydrates are important to the lifecycle of many of the viruses that infect humans. In particular cases they can be essential to the virus, either for infection, and/or for evasion of immune response. In this lecture Professor Fairbanks will discuss how some viruses can either profit from, or even hijack, the human cellular machinery that attaches sugars/carbohydrates to biomacromolecules such as proteins.

Professor Fairbanks will firstly outline the major pathway by which humans attach sugars to their own proteins. Then, using the influenza and the SARS-CoV-2 viruses as examples, he will discuss how in the former case the virus uses these sugars as a means of targeted infection, and in the latter how the virus tries to hide itself from the immune system by decorating its spike (S1) glycoprotein with human sugars. He will also detail how the influenza virus’ reliance on human sugars leaves itself open to attack, and the significant roles that carbohydrate chemists continue to play in the ongoing battle against influenza. Finally, he will discuss the attachment of sugars to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein in the context of the recently approved vaccines that have been developed to target an immune response against it.

Speaker Bios

Professor Antony Fairbanks was born in Chester in the UK. He undertook both his first degree and D.Phil. in Chemistry at Oxford University (Wadham College), the latter working with Professor George Fleet in the Dyson Perrins Laboratory. After this doctorate he did two Postdocs; firstly with Professor Pierre Sinaÿ at the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris, and then with Professor Steve Ley in Cambridge, as a Junior Research Fellow at Sidney Sussex College. In 1996 he returned to Oxford as University Lecturer in Chemistry and a Tutorial Fellow of Jesus College. In 2002 he co-founded Glycoform Ltd, a University spin-out Biotechnology company, and in 2004 he received the Dextra Carbohydrate Award from the Royal Society of Chemistry.

In 2006 he first visited the University of Canterbury (UC) as an Erskine Fellow, and then in 2009, after 13 years as an independent academic at Oxford, he moved to UC permanently when an opportunity arose.

He was Head of the Department of Chemistry at UC from 2010–2014 during the Christchurch earthquakes, and was heavily involved with both the institutional recovery and the design of the $220 million Ernest Rutherford Regional Science and Innovation Centre. In 2018 he was awarded the New Zealand Institute of Chemistry Maurice Wilkins Centre Award for Chemical Science.

His research focuses on carbohydrate chemistry and biology: in particular the development of synthetic methodology and the production of glycoconjugates, including glycoproteins, as potential therapeutic agents. He has produced more than 160 scientific publications, including 144 articles in international peer-reviewed journals, an undergraduate textbook, multiple book chapters and editorials/commentaries, and seven patents.

This lecture will be available both in person and online—see the registration link for more information.

The event begins at 5.30pm for refreshments, lecture begins at 6.15pm.

For more information contact: Phillip Rendle