Nico Bruns, Katja Loos

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingForeword/postscript


When Hermann Staudinger won the 1953 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for introducing the concept of macromolecules, he emphasized that “macromolecular compounds include the most important substances occurring in nature such as proteins, enzymes, the nucleic acids, besides the polysaccharides (…), as well as rubber, and lastly the large number of new, fully synthetic plastics and artificial fibres.”(Staudinger, 1953) The naturally occurring polymers have to be synthesized by the biochemical machinery of living cells. Not surprisingly, a plethora of enzymes can catalyze polymerization reactions in which low molecular weight monomers are linked into high molecular weight macromolecules. These reactions are essential for life and the resulting polymers are major building blocks of living matter. Importantly, many enzymes have been found to be promiscuous with respect to the reactions they can catalyze so that many non-natural polymerizations can nowadays also be catalyzed by enzymes.
Since Staudinger´s time, synthetic macromolecules have become indispensable materials that everyone uses on a daily basis, ranging from plastics in packaging, to light-weight high performance materials in the automotive and the aerospace sector, or as materials for biomedical applications. At the same time, the sheer volume in which plastics are produced and scattered across our planet make synthetic macromolecules a global environmental threat if not properly discarded and recycled. While most synthetic polymers and plastics are produced by chemical means, it is feasible to synthesize polymers via biocatalytic pathways, employing either enzymes or whole cells as polymerization catalysts. There are many reasons to use nature´s catalysts for polymerizations, some of the most prominent being the potential environmental benefit, that most enzymes are non-toxic and biocompatible, or that they allow to produce polymers with chemo- or regio-selectivity. Moreover, some biologically derived polymers such as polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) are biodegradable polymers that can play a role in tackling the plastic waste crisis. Biocatalysis in polymer science is a highly active and burgeoning field, as exemplified by multitude of scientific papers being published each year, and by the implementation of biotechnological routes towards monomers and polymers in industry, e.g. for the synthesis of PHAs or the synthesis of lactic acid. We therefore decide to collate important methods for the biocatalytic synthesis of polymers, monomers and the modification of polymers by enzymatic means in this volume of Methods in Enzymology. The chapters are organized into six sections that cover five classes of polymers, that is polyesters, DNA, polysaccharides and glycomonomers, vinyl polymers, and poly(aromatics), as well the use of enzymes to modify the surface of polymeric materials. The type of polymerizations include polycondensations and ring-opening polymerizations (ROPs), whole-cell polyester synthesis, free radical and controlled radical chain growth polymerizations, as well as radical addition polymerizations.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMethods in Enzymology
Subtitle of host publicationEnzymatic Polymerizations
EditorsNico Bruns, Katja Loos
Place of PublicationCambridge, MA
PublisherAcademic Press Inc.
Number of pages5
ISBN (Print)9780128170953
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2019

Publication series

NameMethods in Enzymology
ISSN (Print)0076-6879
ISSN (Electronic)1557-7988


  • chemistry
  • enzymology
  • polymerization


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