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| 1 minute read

Polymer backbone editing - a Pandora's box

I recently came across this article in Chemistry World and really liked the idea it presents.  It really is true to say that the vast majority of polymer research seems to have been around the periphery of polymers, namely their side chains and end groups, yet despite this the plethora of applications polymers have found is remarkable.  This article discusses recent research targeting the heart of polymers, their backbone.  It's hard to imagine the array of properties and applications these polymers  might attain if this technology can be successfully implemented commercially. 

For those unfamiliar with polymer chemistry, the backbone of a polymer is the main chain of the polymer, usually formed of one or more repeating units.  The chemical reactions used to form the polymer usually involve addition or condensation reactions, or ring openings, meaning that the same type of chemical functional groups are in place along the backbone's length.

The idea of modifying or “editing” the backbone seems obvious in some ways, but it goes against the grain.  It always seemed impossible to modify the (many) repeating units once they are in place.  Of course, as the author of the article recognises, this idea opens up a Pandora's box of new polymers, potentially with new properties, and new combinations of properties.  The idea of using backbone “editing” to change polymer backbones to facilitate recycling is also of significant interest.

For patent attorneys drafting patent applications in the polymer space, this technology could prove challenging to claim.  I foresee tension between patentees who wish to define new polymers by the methods by which they are made and/or their properties, and patent examiners who will want the polymer defined by their structure.  Of course, the structure might not be fully understood, particularly if the backbone is partially edited or edited by more than one technique.

Image: World

‘Polymer backbone editing is an emerging area with a lot of potential to have a big impact,’ says Karen Wooley from Texas A&M University in the US. ‘People are getting excited about it, bringing in new ideas and it’s now just at the precipice, ready to take off and really fly.’


polymer, sustainability, polymers, sustainable materials , chemistry, climate change, patents, yes