Wiley InterScience Backfile Collection 1832-2000
Chemistry and Pharmacology
Along with polyisoprenoids, polypeptides, polysaccharides, and polynucleotides, Nature contains a further group of biopolymers, the poly(hydroxyalkanoates). The commonest member of this group, poly[(R)-3-hydroxybutyrate] P(3-HB), had been identified by Lemoigne as early as the 1920s, as a storage substance in the microorganism Bacillus megaterium made up of more than 12000 (3-HB) units. However, the widespread distribution and significance of these biopolymers has only become clear recently. The work of Reusch, in particular, has shown that low molecular weight P(3-HB) (100-200 3-HB units) occurs in the cell membranes of prokaryotic and eukaryotic organisms. The function of P(3-HB) in the latter sources is largely unknown; it has been proposed that a complex of P(3-HB) and calcium polyphosphate acts as an ion channel through the membrane. Indeed, it has even been speculated that P(3-HB) plays a role in transport of DNA through the cell wall. In the present article, the following subjects will be discussed: metabolism of P(3-HB) and analogous polyesters in the synthesis and degradation of storage materials; P(3-HB) as a starting material for chiral synthetic building blocks; synthesis of cyclic oligomers (oligolides) of up to ten 3-HB units, and their crystal structure; high molecular weight bio-copolymers of hydroxybutyrate and hydroxyvalerate (BIOPOL) as biologically degradable plastics; nonbiological production of polyhydroxyalkanoates from 3-hydroxy carboxylic acids and the corresponding β-lactones; specific synthesis of linear oligomers with a narrow molecular weight distribution, consisting of about 100 (R)-3-hydroxybutyrate units, by using an exponential coupling procedure; structure of the polyesters, and a comparison with other polymers; the experimental results which led to the postulation of a P(3-HB) ion channel through the cell wall; modeling of P(3-HB) helices of various diameters, by using the parameters obtained from the crystal structures of oligolides; formation of a crown ester complex and ion transport experiments with the triolide of 3-HB. The article describes one example of the contributions that synthetic organic chemists can make to important biological problems in an interdisciplinary framework.
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