Degradation-by-design: how chemical functionalization enhances the biodegradability and safety of 2D materials
A large number of graphene and other 2D materials are currently used for the development of new technologies, increasingly entering different industrial sectors. Interrogating the impact of such 2D materials on health and environment is crucial for both modulating their potential toxicity in living organisms and eliminating them from the environment. In this context, understanding if 2D materials are bio-persistent is mandatory. In this review we describe the importance of biodegradability and decomposition of 2D materials. We initially cover the biodegradation of graphene family materials, followed by other emerging classes of 2D materials including transition metal dichalcogenides and oxides, Xenes, Mxenes and other non-metallic 2D materials. We explain the role of defects and functional groups, introduced onto the surface of the materials during their preparation, and the consequences of chemical functionalization on biodegradability. In strong relation to the chemistry on 2D materials, we describe the concept of “degradation-by-design” that we contributed to develop, and which concerns the covalent modification with appropriate molecules to enhance the biodegradability of 2D materials. Finally, we cover the importance of designing new biodegradable 2D conjugates and devices for biomedical applications as drug delivery carriers, in bioelectronics, and tissue engineering. We would like to highlight that the biodegradation of 2D materials mainly depends on the type of material, the chemical functionalization, the aqueous dispersibility and the redox potentials of the different oxidative environments. Biodegradation is one of the necessary conditions for the safe application of 2D materials. Therefore, we hope that this review will help to better understand their biodegradation processes, and will stimulate the chemists to explore new chemical strategies to design safer products, composites and devices containing 2D materials.