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Programmable Plastics

ERC Advanced Grant Project number 320539 : duplex

The unique properties of nucleic acids have made them the material of choice for complex nanofabrication. High fidelity formation of duplexes via non-covalent interactions between complementary sequences provides a straightforward approach to molecular programming of multicomponent self-assembly processes. The structure of the nucleic acid backbone and bases can be changed without destroying these properties, suggesting that there are all kinds of unexplored polymeric structures that will also show sequence selective duplex formation. This proposal investigates this rich new area at the interface of supramolecular, biological and polymer chemistry. The appeal of nucleic acids is that we can dial up any desired sequence via chemical solid phase synthesis or via biological template synthesis. With recent advances in polymerisation processes, which proceed under mild conditions compatible with non-covalent chemistry, we are now in a position to develop comparable processes for synthetic polymers. This proposal explores a ground-breaking approach to the synthesis of polymeric systems equipped with defined sequences of recognition sites. The aim is to establish protocols for routine solid phase synthesis of one class of oligomer, which can be used to template the synthesis of different classes of oligomer. This template chemistry will provide tools for polymerisation of conventional monomers using templates to determine the sequence of recognition sites and hence incorporate the selective recognition properties of nucleic acids into bulk polymers like polystyrene. The ability to program polymers with recognition information will open the way to new materials of unprecedented complexity and functionality with applications in all areas of nanotechnology where precise control over macromolecular structure and supramolecular organisation will be used to program mechanical, photochemical and electronic properties into sophisticated assemblies that rival biology.