Reproducing naturePublished on 09.08.2021

Polymers with an extra twist

Researchers from the National Center of Competence in Research Bio-Inspired Materials at the University of Fribourg have developed a new method of polymerization that provides more control over the process, while opening the door to polymers that mimic biological functions.

Polymers occur frequently in nature. Typical examples include silk, wool, DNA, cellulose and proteins. While extracting them is usually a straightforward process, reproducing natural polymers is more of a challenge. They are often the result of process known as condensation polymerization, which allows for the development of longer polymer chains and unique sequences. Reproducing this synthesis often results in uncontrolled growth of the polymers while also failing to reach their intended length.

NCCR researchers led by Prof. Andreas Kilbinger and colleagues at the University of Fribourg’s Department of Chemistry as well as at the Adolphe Merkle Institute have now developed a method for aminoacids that slows down the reaction process, allowing for longer polymer chains and improved yields. The result is long, twisted fibers that are hollow and can be loaded with other molecules.

Potential applications for this research include antimicrobial treatments: if inserted into a bacterium, the hollow fibers could create an entry point for drugs. Other suggested uses could be membranes for the purification of water, or hydrogen storage for battery applications.

The results of this research were recently published in the leading journal Nature Chemistry.     

Reference: Pal, S.; Nguyen, D. P. T.; Molliet, A.; Alizadeh, M.; Crochet, A.; Ortuso, R. D.; Petri-Fink, A.; Kilbinger, A. F. M. A Versatile Living Polymerization Method for Aromatic Amides. Nat. Chem. 2021, 13 (7), 705–713.