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Issue 9, 2010
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Liquid crystal phase formation by biopolymers

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This review discusses liquid crystal phase formation by biopolymers in solution. Lyotropic mesophases have been observed for several classes of biopolymer including DNA, peptides, polymer/peptide conjugates, glycopolymers and proteoglycans. Nematic or chiral nematic (cholesteric) phases are the most commonly observed mesophases, in which the rod-like fibrils have only orientational order. Hexagonal columnar phases are observed for several systems (DNA, PBLG, polymer/peptide hybrids) at higher concentration. Lamellar (smectic) phases are reported less often, although there are examples such as the layer arrangement of amylopectin side chains in starch. Possible explanations for the observed structures are discussed. The biological role of liquid crystal phases for several of these systems is outlined. Commonly, they may serve as a template to align fibrils for defined structural roles when the biopolymer is extruded and dried, for instance in the production of silk by spiders or silkworms, or of chitin in arthropod shells. In other cases, liquid crystal phase formation may occur in vivo simply as a consequence of high concentration, for instance the high packing density of DNA within cell nuclei.

Graphical abstract: Liquid crystal phase formation by biopolymers

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The article was received on 13 Nov 2009, accepted on 04 Feb 2010 and first published on 24 Feb 2010

Article type: Review Article
DOI: 10.1039/B923942A
Soft Matter, 2010,6, 1863-1871

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    Liquid crystal phase formation by biopolymers

    I. W. Hamley, Soft Matter, 2010, 6, 1863
    DOI: 10.1039/B923942A

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