ProjectsLearning from Nature – Radical Polymers

Polymers generate highly reactive radicals when pulled. These radicals lead to successive damage and aging of the material. This is known for nearly a century. 

We discovered that biopolymers are not any different: When pulling on collagen, the most abundant protein in our body and the major material of tendon, skin, and other connective tissues, we detected mechanoradicals due to chemical bond scission just like in synthetic polymers. Excitingly, collagen is doing much better in stabilizing the radicals on specific residues to reduce further damage.

This knowledge can be harnessed, which is our current aim. First, such protection mechanisms can be used in other materials, which is particularly interesting for biocompatible polymers. Secondly, the insights can lead to new therapeutic approaches for related diseases, such as pain or arthritis. Engineering molecular systems such that they make use of the trick that collagen uses can greatly advance the fight against problems caused by the highly reactive radicals in tensed materials (Zapp et al, Nat Comm 2020).

This project is in collaboration with Prof. Dr. Uwe Brunz, Prof. Dr. Peter Comba and PD. Dr. Tobias Dick at Heidelberg University.

Radical Polymers

Project Lead

Prof. Dr. Frauke Gräter
Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies (HITS)