Like polymers biopolymers are chain-like molecules made up of repeating chemical blocks and can be very long in length. The prefix bio means that they are produced by living organisms and thus are biodegradable.
Biopolymers can be classified in three groups, depending on the nature of the repeating unit they are made of: (i) polysaccharrides are made of sugars, (ii) proteins of amino acids, and (iii) nucleic acids of nucleotides. The following substances are example-biopolymers for each group: cellulose (found in plants), myoglobin (muscle tissues), and DNA (genetic material of a given organism). At Novozymes, we produce macromolecules belonging to the two first classes, namely polysaccharides and proteins.
Biopolymers are complex molecules with biological activity
In contrast to synthetic polymers which have a simpler and more random structure, biopolymers are complex molecular assemblies that adopt precise and defined 3D shapes and structures. This feature is essential because this is what makes biopolymers active molecules in vivo. Their defined shape and structure are indeed keys to their function. For example, hemoglobin would not be able to carry oxygen in the blood if it was not folded in a quaternary structure.
Biopolymers have many industrial applications
The applications of biopolymers are vast but here at Novozymes we are mainly interested in the pharmaceutical and biomedical applications of biopolymers. Check out, for example, the many applications of hyaluronic acid. Did you know that intra-articular injections of hyaluronic solutions or gels in the knee can relieve pain in arthritic patients up to 6 months leading to a serious improvement of their mobility? More generally, biopolymers are ideal excipients, building blocks, carrier and protective agents used to improve the performances of other biologically active molecules in a product. They can also be modified to serve a particular purpose which explains the multitude of potential applications.
Biopolymers have a low environmental footprint
Unlike synthetic polymers which feedstock can be derived from petrochemicals or chemical processes, biopolymers are produced from renewable resources such as plant and/or living organisms. They can be degraded by natural processes, microorganisms and enzymes down to elemental entities that can be resorbed in the environment. Biopolymers thus offer the possibility to create a sustainable industry and reduce CO2 emissions.