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Nucleobase polymeric materials


The hydrogen bonding recognition interactions of nucleobases are a fundamental property of nucleic acid chemistry and associated transcription, translation and replication functions. Nucleobase interactions are central in protein biosynthesis, yielding sequence- and stereo-specific macromolecules capable of assembling into precisely defined, complex shapes and morphologies that make up the machinery of life. As the understanding of nucleobases and their significance developed in the last century, chemists inevitably sought to extend their function from a biological setting onto wholly synthetic platforms. Recent advances point to a burgeoning area of study which may soon bear fruit in some of the holy grails of polymer synthesis, namely sequence (and stereo) control, single chain manipulation and controlled polymer folding.

There are few polymers that have the same capabilities as DNA: the ability to faithfully replicate, but also to incorporate mutations in a quantized fashion. DNA also has the ability to form sequence-dependent structures that have immense functionality, including the ability to undergo ligand-dependent conformational changes and to catalyze reactions. If other materials besides biological materials could be embedded with the same properties as DNA then it is not unreasonable that they would be able to perform in the same ways as biological entities: not only would their morphologies be encoded in the information within, but they could repair themselves, be rebuilt or even replicate. To improve the materials interface between the chemical and biological worlds it is proposed that we forego our over-reliance on natural macromolecules and embrace concepts which combine salient features of both worlds. We propose doing this through the design and synthesis of synthetic polymer analogues of DNA and their self-assembly into coded materials capable of replication.

We are interested in developing new routes towards polymers with nucleobase functionality and exploring self-assembly and recognition abilities.

Selected Publications

Micellar nanoparticles with tuneable morphologies through interactions between nucleobase-containing synthetic polymers in aqueous solution, Z. Hua, A. Pitto-Barry, Y. Kang, N. Kirby, T. R. Wilks, R. K. O'Reilly, Polym. Chem.,2016, 7, 4254-4262, DOI: 10.1039/C6PY00716C


Use of complementary nucleobase-containing synthetic polymers to prepare complex self-assembled morphologies in water, Y. Kang, A. Pitto-Barry, M. Rolph, Z.Hua, I. Hands-Portman, N.Kirby and R.K.O'Reilly, Polym. Chem. 2016, 7, 2836-2846, DOI: 10.1039/c6py00263c


RAFT dispersion polymerization: A method to tune the morphology of thymine-containing self-assemblies, Y. Kang, A. Pitto-Barry, A. Maitland, and R. K. O’Reilly, Polymer Chemistry, 2015, 4984 - 4992, DOI: 10.1039/C5PY00617A


Exploiting nucleobase-containing materials – from monomers to complex morphologies using RAFT dispersion polymerization, Y. Kang, A. Pitto-Barry, H. Willcock, W-D Quan, N. Kirby, A. M. Sanchez and R. K. O’Reilly, Polym. Chem., 2015, 6, 106-117, DOI: 10.1039/C4PY01074D


Effect of Complementary Nucleobase Interactions on the Copolymer Composition of RAFT Copolymerizations, Y. Kang, A. Lu, A. Ellington, M.C. Jewett, R.K. O'Reilly, ACS Macro Letters, 2013, 2, 581-586. DOI: 10.1021/mz4001833


Biomimetic Radical Polymerization via Cooperative Assembly of Segregating Templates, R. McHale, J.P. Patterson, P.B. Zetterlund, R.K. O'Reilly, Nature Chemistry, 2012, 491-497. DOI: 10.1038/nchem.1331