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Concept: Polymer


Poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET) is one of the most abundantly produced synthetic polymers and is accumulating in the environment at a staggering rate as discarded packaging and textiles. The properties that make PET so useful also endow it with an alarming resistance to biodegradation, likely lasting centuries in the environment. Our collective reliance on PET and other plastics means that this buildup will continue unless solutions are found. Recently, a newly discovered bacterium, Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F6, was shown to exhibit the rare ability to grow on PET as a major carbon and energy source. Central to its PET biodegradation capability is a secreted PETase (PET-digesting enzyme). Here, we present a 0.92 Å resolution X-ray crystal structure of PETase, which reveals features common to both cutinases and lipases. PETase retains the ancestral α/β-hydrolase fold but exhibits a more open active-site cleft than homologous cutinases. By narrowing the binding cleft via mutation of two active-site residues to conserved amino acids in cutinases, we surprisingly observe improved PET degradation, suggesting that PETase is not fully optimized for crystalline PET degradation, despite presumably evolving in a PET-rich environment. Additionally, we show that PETase degrades another semiaromatic polyester, polyethylene-2,5-furandicarboxylate (PEF), which is an emerging, bioderived PET replacement with improved barrier properties. In contrast, PETase does not degrade aliphatic polyesters, suggesting that it is generally an aromatic polyesterase. These findings suggest that additional protein engineering to increase PETase performance is realistic and highlight the need for further developments of structure/activity relationships for biodegradation of synthetic polyesters.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Evolution, Amino acid, Crystal, Polymer, Materials science, Polyester


The occurrence of microplastics (MPs) in saltwater bodies is relatively well studied, but nothing is known about their presence in most of the commercial salts that are widely consumed by humans across the globe. Here, we extracted MP-like particles larger than 149 μm from 17 salt brands originating from 8 different countries followed by the identification of their polymer composition using micro-Raman spectroscopy. Microplastics were absent in one brand while others contained between 1 to 10 MPs/Kg of salt. Out of the 72 extracted particles, 41.6% were plastic polymers, 23.6% were pigments, 5.50% were amorphous carbon, and 29.1% remained unidentified. The particle size (mean ± SD) was 515 ± 171 μm. The most common plastic polymers were polypropylene (40.0%) and polyethylene (33.3%). Fragments were the primary form of MPs (63.8%) followed by filaments (25.6%) and films (10.6%). According to our results, the low level of anthropogenic particles intake from the salts (maximum 37 particles per individual per annum) warrants negligible health impacts. However, to better understand the health risks associated with salt consumption, further development in extraction protocols are needed to isolate anthropogenic particles smaller than 149 μm.

Concepts: Water, Polymer, Carbon, Plastic, Polypropylene, Polyethylene, Plasticizer, Polyethylene terephthalate


Inspired by natural muscle, a key challenge in soft robotics is to develop self-contained electrically driven soft actuators with high strain density. Various characteristics of existing technologies, such as the high voltages required to trigger electroactive polymers ( > 1KV), low strain ( < 10%) of shape memory alloys and the need for external compressors and pressure-regulating components for hydraulic or pneumatic fluidicelastomer actuators, limit their practicality for untethered applications. Here we show a single self-contained soft robust composite material that combines the elastic properties of a polymeric matrix and the extreme volume change accompanying liquid-vapor transition. The material combines a high strain (up to 900%) and correspondingly high stress (up to 1.3 MPa) with low density (0.84 g cm(-3)). Along with its extremely low cost (about 3 cent per gram), simplicity of fabrication and environment-friendliness, these properties could enable new kinds of electrically driven entirely soft robots.The development of self-contained electrically driven soft actuators with high strain density is difficult. Here the authors show a single self-contained soft robust composite material that combines the elastic properties of a polymeric matrix and the extreme volume change accompanying liquid vapour transition.

Concepts: Density, Water, Polymer, Soft matter, Metallurgy, Pseudoelasticity, Polymers, Electroactive polymers


Polymersomes, made up of amphiphilic block copolymers, are emerging as a powerful tool in drug delivery and synthetic biology due to their high stability, chemical versatility, and surface modifiability. The full potential of polymersomes, however, has been hindered by a lack of versatile methods for shape control. Here we show that a range of non-spherical polymersome morphologies with anisotropic membranes can be obtained by exploiting hydrophobic directional aromatic interactions between perylene polymer units within the membrane structure. By controlling the extent of solvation/desolvation of the aromatic side chains through changes in solvent quality, we demonstrate facile access to polymersomes that are either ellipsoidal or tubular-shaped. Our results indicate that perylene aromatic interactions have a great potential in the design of non-spherical polymersomes and other structurally complex self-assembled polymer structures.

Concepts: Cell membrane, Structure, Polymer, Copolymer, Polymer chemistry


Much physiological and behavioral evidence has been provided suggesting that insect Odorant Binding Proteins (OBPs) are indispensable for odorant recognition and thus appealing targets for structure-based discovery and design of novel host-seeking disruptors. Despite the fact that more than 60 putative OBP-encoding genes have been identified in the malaria vector Anopheles gambiae, the crystal structures of only six of them are known. It is therefore clear that OBP structure determination constitutes the bottle-neck for structure-based approaches to mosquito repellent/attractant discovery. Here, we describe the three dimensional structure of an Anopheles gambiae “Plus-C” group OBP, AgamOBP48, which exhibits the second highest expression levels in female antennae. This structure represents the first example of a 3D domain-swapped dimer in dipteran species. A combined binding site is formed at the dimer interface by equal contribution of each monomer. Structural comparisons with the monomeric AgamOBP47 revealed that the major structural difference between the two “Plus-C” proteins localizes in their N- and C-terminal regions and their concerted conformational change may account for monomer-swapped dimer conversion and, furthermore, the formation of novel binding pockets. Using a combination of gel filtration chromatography, differential scanning calorimetry and analytical ultracentrifugation, we demonstrate the AgamOBP48 dimerization in solution. Eventually, molecular modelling calculations were used to predict the binding mode of the most potent synthetic ligand of AgamOBP48 known so far, discovered by ligand- and structure-based virtual screening. The structure-aided identification of multiple OBP-binders represents a powerful tool to be employed in the effort to control the vector-borne diseases transmission.

Concepts: Protein, Molecular biology, Malaria, Polymer, Chromatography, Dimer, Monomer, Differential scanning calorimetry


Here we describe the synthesis and biological properties of two types of star-shaped polymer-doxorubicin conjugates: non-targeted conjugate prepared as long-circulating high-molecular-weight (HMW) polymer prodrugs with a dendrimer core and a targeted conjugate with the anti-CD20 monoclonal antibody (mAb) rituximab (RTX). The copolymers were linked to the dendrimer core or to the reduced mAb via one-point attachment forming a star-shaped structure with a central antibody or dendrimer surrounded by hydrophilic polymer chains. The anticancer drug doxorubicin (DOX) was attached to the N-(2-hydroxypropyl)methacrylamide (HPMA)-based copolymer chain in star polymer systems via a pH-labile hydrazone linkage. Such polymer-DOX conjugates were fairly stable in aqueous solutions at pH 7.4, and the drug was readily released in mildly acidic environments at pH 5-5.5 by hydrolysis of the hydrazone bonds. The cytotoxicity of the polymer conjugates was tested on several CD20-positive or negative human cell lines. Similar levels of in vitro cytotoxicity were observed for all tested polymer conjugates regardless of type or structure. In vivo experiments using primary cell-based murine xenograft models of human diffuse large B-cell lymphoma confirmed the superior anti-lymphoma efficacy of the polymer-bound DOX conjugate when compared with the original drug. Targeting with RTX did not further enhance the anti-lymphoma efficacy relative to the non-targeted star polymer conjugate. Two mechanisms could play roles in these findings: changes in the binding ability to the CD-20 receptor and a significant loss of the immunological properties of RTX in the polymer conjugates.

Concepts: Immune system, Protein, Monoclonal antibodies, Immunology, Polymer, Lymphoma, In vitro, Rituximab


Understanding high-velocity microparticle impact is essential for many fields, from space exploration to medicine and biology. Investigations of microscale impact have hitherto been limited to post-mortem analysis of impacted specimens, which does not provide direct information on the impact dynamics. Here we report real-time multi-frame imaging studies of the impact of 7 μm diameter glass spheres traveling at 700-900 m/s on elastomer polymers. With a poly(urethane urea) (PUU) sample, we observe a hyperelastic impact phenomenon not seen on the macroscale: a microsphere undergoes a full conformal penetration into the specimen followed by a rebound which leaves the specimen unscathed. The results challenge the established interpretation of the behaviour of elastomers under high-velocity impact.

Concepts: Sample, Medicine, Biology, Polymer, Elastomer, Space exploration, Specimen, Ethylene-vinyl acetate


Plastics are synthetic polymers derived from fossil oil and largely resistant to biodegradation. Polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) represent ∼92% of total plastic production. PE is largely utilized in packaging, representing ∼40% of total demand for plastic products ( with over a trillion plastic bags used every year [1]. Plastic production has increased exponentially in the past 50 years (Figure S1A in Supplemental Information, published with this article online). In the 27 EU countries plus Norway and Switzerland up to 38% of plastic is discarded in landfills, with the rest utilized for recycling (26%) and energy recovery (36%) via combustion (, carrying a heavy environmental impact. Therefore, new solutions for plastic degradation are urgently needed. We report the fast bio-degradation of PE by larvae of the wax moth Galleria mellonella, producing ethylene glycol.

Concepts: Petroleum, Polymer, Plastic, Polypropylene, Lepidoptera, Polyethylene, Moth, Polyethylene terephthalate


We present a new 4D printing approach that can create high resolution (up to a few microns), multimaterial shape memory polymer (SMP) architectures. The approach is based on high resolution projection microstereolithography (PμSL) and uses a family of photo-curable methacrylate based copolymer networks. We designed the constituents and compositions to exhibit desired thermomechanical behavior (including rubbery modulus, glass transition temperature and failure strain which is more than 300% and larger than any existing printable materials) to enable controlled shape memory behavior. We used a high resolution, high contrast digital micro display to ensure high resolution of photo-curing methacrylate based SMPs that requires higher exposure energy than more common acrylate based polymers. An automated material exchange process enables the manufacture of 3D composite architectures from multiple photo-curable SMPs. In order to understand the behavior of the 3D composite microarchitectures, we carry out high fidelity computational simulations of their complex nonlinear, time-dependent behavior and study important design considerations including local deformation, shape fixity and free recovery rate. Simulations are in good agreement with experiments for a series of single and multimaterial components and can be used to facilitate the design of SMP 3D structures.

Concepts: Polymer, Polymer chemistry, Differential scanning calorimetry, Glass, Glass transition, Shape memory alloy, Polymers, Shape memory polymer


High thermal conductivity is critical for many applications of polymers (for example, packaging of light-emitting diodes), in which heat must be dissipated efficiently to maintain the functionality and reliability of a system. Whereas uniaxially extended chain morphology has been shown to significantly enhance thermal conductivity in individual polymer chains and fibers, bulk polymers with coiled and entangled chains have low thermal conductivities (0.1 to 0.4 W m(-1) K(-1)). We demonstrate that systematic ionization of a weak anionic polyelectrolyte, polyacrylic acid (PAA), resulting in extended and stiffened polymer chains with superior packing, can significantly enhance its thermal conductivity. Cross-plane thermal conductivity in spin-cast amorphous films steadily grows with PAA degree of ionization, reaching up to ~1.2 W m(-1) K(-1), which is on par with that of glass and about six times higher than that of most amorphous polymers, suggesting a new unexplored molecular engineering strategy to achieve high thermal conductivities in amorphous bulk polymers.

Concepts: Polymer, Heat, Chain, Physical chemistry, Polystyrene, Nylon, Thermal conductivity, Electrical conductivity