Plastics and Biodegradable Polymers

We live in a polymer age – our modern life is shaped by polymers every day. From food packaging to high-tech polymers in our laptops or cars, synthetic macromolecules surround us.

Research in the “Functional Polymers” Group is driven by the molecular design of (bio)degradable polymers – both fully synthetic or based on modified biopolymers.

We design biodegradable nanocarriers, i.e. nanoscopic packaging, of drugs, which we use together with the Uniclinics or the Biology department in Mainz for drug delivery – into cells for the treatment of human diseases, but also as targeted drug delivery inside of plants. The latter project especially targets the treatment of the grapevine trunk disease “Esca” – a deadly fungal disease that does not have a cure to date. We have developed a reliable protocol, based on modified wood-components, that entrap a fungicide and allow a direct transport inside of a living plant and to treat the disease at the place of action – such a nanocarrier-mediated drug delivery for plants will reduce the amounts of pesticides which are sprayed on the fields in the agriculture in general.

Fully synthetic polyethylene-mimics are another major topic in this research area. We design monomers with breaking points, e.g. phosphoesters or orthoesters, that undergo hydrolysis or enzymatic cleavage under certain conditions. These very hydrophobic polymers might be able to replace the non-biodegradable polyethylene is certain applications as they ensure complete degradation. Further information can be found via the link of the interdisciplinary project “PlastX”.

Besides research on novel biodegradable polymers, we also conduct studies about commodity plastics and packaging. The results are published together with the PlastX workgroup (see external link). Shorter stories about plastics and packaging are currently published online via the institute’s Twitter account and cover for example explanations about “To Go”-products or biodegradable waste bags for organic waste. In a recent article (Haider et al. Angew. Chem 2019), we discuss the term “biodegradability” – and compare test methods from the lab to real-life applications that concern biodegradability of plastics and polymers.

Selected publications:

Tee, H. T.; Lieberwirth, I.; Wurm, F. R.
Aliphatic Long-Chain Polypyrophosphates as Biodegradable Polyethylene Mimics.
Macromolecules 2019, 52 (3), 1166-1172.
Haider, T. P.; Völker, C.; Kramm, J.; Landfester, K.; Wurm, F. R.
Plastics of the Future? The Impact of Biodegradable Polymers on the Environment and on Society.
Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2019, 58 (1), 50-62
Haider, T.; Shyshov, O.; Suraeva, O.; Lieberwirth, I.; von Delius, M.; Wurm, F. R.
Long-Chain Polyorthoesters as Degradable Polyethylene Mimics.
Macromolecules 2019, 52 (6), 2411-2420
Bauer, K. N.; Liu, L.; Andrienko, D.; Wagner, M.; Macdonald, E. K.; Shaver, M. P.; Wurm, F. R.
Polymerizing Phostones: A Fast Way to In-Chain Poly(phosphonate)s with Adjustable Hydrophilicity.
Macromolecules 2018, 51 (4), 1272-1279
Steinbach, T.; Becker, G.; Spiegel, A.; Figueiredo, T.; Russo, D.; Wurm, F. R.
Reversible Bioconjugation: Biodegradable Poly(phosphate)-Protein Conjugates.
Macromol. Biosci. 2017, 17 (10)
Bauer, K. N.; Liu, L.; Wagner, M.; Andrienko, D.; Wurm, F. R.
Mechanistic study on the hydrolytic degradation of polyphosphates.
Eur. Polym. J. 2018, 108, 286-294
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