In analogy to the terms proteomics and genomics, the term glycomics has been coined to describe an interdisciplinary research branch that is concerned with the systematic investigation of the glycome, i.e., the total collection of glycans, free or bound to lipids or proteins, in a cell, including additional aspects such as genetics, physiology, metabolism and pathology.

Glycomics is an emerging discipline focused on identifying the glycoconjugate structures in biological samples and determining how the abundances of these important molecules change, for example, as cells differentiate or as disease progresses.

However, comprehensive description of a glycomics experiment is challenging due to the structural complexity of glycoconjugates and biological complexity of the processes that lead to their formation in vivo. Failure to provide a minimal set of meta data describing sample’s biological history, physical manipulation and chemical analysis make it very difficult to interpret, evaluate and reproduce glycomics analyses that are disseminated as journal articles or database entries.

The Way Forward

In 2006 the scientific community agreed to establish a worldwide linked electronic infrastructure for the storage and analysis of carbohydrate structure data. As a prerequisite, standardized protocols were proposed for the exchange and the publication of experimental data and metadata (Packer et al., 2008; PMID:18095367). A few years later these requirements have been clarified and expanded. Particular attention has been paid to enabling scientists to evaluate the quality of published structural and functional data of the glycans (Workshop on Analytic and Bioinformatic Glycomics 2009).

Under the auspices of the Beilstein-Institut, in 2011 the MIRAGE project (MIRAGE = Minimum Information Required for A Glycomics Experiment) started to define requirements for the publication of data in glycomics.

The aim is that MIRAGE will improve the quality of journal articles describing glycomics analyses by providing authors with guidelines on how to include the most important data and metadata that characterize their experiments.

This will provide a basis for improving the quality of data contained in carbohydrate structure databases and make it possible to develop and implement more effective software for mining glycomics data.

The implementation of MIRAGE is oriented on the development of previous 'minimum information' standards such as MIAPE (The Minimum Information for A Proteomics Experiment) and STRENDA (Standards for Reporting Enzymology Data).


The philosophical basis for MIRAGE is very similar to that of MIAPE: “It has always been a matter of policy that the PSI should neither attempt to produce standard operating procedures specifying how particular techniques should be performed nor attempt to establish quality assessment benchmarks. We do not believe it is the job of this body to dictate to the proteomics community how it should perform experiments or analyses.” (Taylor et al. (2007) Nat. Biotechnol. 25(8): 887-893, doi:10.1038/nbt1329).

MIRAGE and MIAPE share fundamental criteria required for broad acceptance by the glycobiology community:

  • sufficiency: the guidelines should adequately describe information about the experimental data and the experimental conditions and methods used to generate the data to enable individuals to understand, critically evaluate, interpret and reproduce the data.
  • practicability: the guidelines should be concise, understandable and limited to specific parameters that have a significant effect on the outcome of an experiment, facilitating compliance by scientists who use them.

  • stability: the guidelines must be stable over a time period that is adequate to ensure consistency and comparability in data reporting. Nevertheless, the guidelines must accommodate technical and scientific advances that should be considered when a new technique is sufficiently mature and robust for widespread use.