What does pasta have to do with chemistry? That answer lies in the discovery of fusilli-shaped polymers from a new kind of click chemistry. This chemical reaction can be considered a breakthrough in the formation and manipulation of high-end polymers. The fusilli-like shape adds extra functionality to the material, such as better adhesion. Ultimately it can lead to advanced, smart packaging materials and pharmaceuticals.
The research has just been published in Nature Chemistry and provides a novel way to form tailor-made polymers with well-defined helicities (like DNA). It also offers a handle for further functionalization through similar, mild click reactions. Part of the international consortium a/o Nobel Prize Winner and inventor of click chemistry K. Barry Sharpless and professor Han Zuilhof, Chair of Organic Chemistry at Wageningen University & Research.
Legion of possibilities
Zuilhof is very pleased with the results of the research: “The fusilli-like shape adds extra functionality to the material, but does make it more difficult to modify by traditional chemistries.” He explains: “We can now create a polymer that in itself already has interesting properties and a beautiful structure, but on top of that also allows the efficient attachment of other materials onto it by using mild click chemistries. That means that instead of interfering with the building blocks that are used to form the polymer backbone itself, this can now be done afterwards. This process of post-polymerisation modification also enables us to create many different kind of polymers from one single backbone. This type of click chemistry opens up a legion of possibilities to create polymers with different functionalities.”
Zuilhof compares click chemistry to building with LEGO: “Different parts can be clicked on and you can build from there. This is actually a gentle process and can also be done with fragile building blocks. For instance a bioactive material, such as peptides or antiviral agents, can be fragile and won’t survive the process of polymerisation or stay attached. We have now created an extra molecular tool to first create the building blocks and after that click on the materials. Having this handle opens a lot of doors to new materials and adds an extra option to the toolbox of 21th-century chemists.”
On the consortium
The consortium exists of a team of 16 scientists from the USA, China, Australia, Saudi Arabia and the Netherlands, including Zuilhof’s team members Sidhu Pujari, Dongdong Liang and Hafedh Driss.
A multidimensional connective hub for linear polymer synthesis with the post-polymerization modification (PPM) potential is traditionally challenging for the selectivity and reactivity problem. Now, polymerization and PPM can be efficiently conducted at a stereogenic sulfur(VI) center derived from thionyl tetrafluoride and primary amine with Sulfur (VI) Fluoride Exchange (SuFEx) chemistry.