Issue 18, 2022

Knotting matters: orderly molecular entanglements


Entangling strands in a well-ordered manner can produce useful effects, from shoelaces and fishing nets to brown paper packages tied up with strings. At the nanoscale, non-crystalline polymer chains of sufficient length and flexibility randomly form tangled mixtures containing open knots of different sizes, shapes and complexity. However, discrete molecular knots of precise topology can also be obtained by controlling the number, sequence and stereochemistry of strand crossings: orderly molecular entanglements. During the last decade, substantial progress in the nascent field of molecular nanotopology has been made, with general synthetic strategies and new knotting motifs introduced, along with insights into the properties and functions of ordered tangle sequences. Conformational restrictions imparted by knotting can induce allostery, strong and selective anion binding, catalytic activity, lead to effective chiral expression across length scales, binding modes in conformations efficacious for drug delivery, and facilitate mechanical function at the molecular level. As complex molecular topologies become increasingly synthetically accessible they have the potential to play a significant role in molecular and materials design strategies. We highlight particular examples of molecular knots to illustrate why these are a few of our favourite things.

Graphical abstract: Knotting matters: orderly molecular entanglements

Article information

Article type
Review Article
24 Apr 2022
First published
18 Aug 2022
This article is Open Access
Creative Commons BY license

Chem. Soc. Rev., 2022,51, 7779-7809

Knotting matters: orderly molecular entanglements

Z. Ashbridge, S. D. P. Fielden, D. A. Leigh, L. Pirvu, F. Schaufelberger and L. Zhang, Chem. Soc. Rev., 2022, 51, 7779 DOI: 10.1039/D2CS00323F

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