We see and use many types of polymers every day, it’s just that it’s known to us by different names. The most common polymer is plastics and it comes in many forms – plastic bags, ATM and credit cards, our five ringgit notes and toys. There’s also fabrics like rayon, nylon, and polyester. These are synthetic polymers, i.e. they are man-made.
The other type of polymers, known as natural polymers, can be found in nature and within us. They are also known as natural biopolymers, i.e. polymers produced by living organisms. DNA is a natural polymer found in all living things and it will be very difficult for us to survive without it. There are also other natural polymers, e.g. cotton, silk, rubber, leather and cotton; that can be modified chemically to produce many of the consumer products we love and can’t do without!
So, what’s a polymer?
It’s a compound formed from long chains of the same molecule group. These chains repeat over and over, just like paper clips of the same type and colour joined together. Polymers can be made to be flexible, pliable and stretchy, yet strong and firm by linking the molecule chains in several places. Depends on what we want.
Now that we know the difference between synthetic and natural polymers, how about marine biopolymers? As the name goes, they are polymers produced by living organisms that live in the seas. You may ask, how useful is it to us? Aren’t all polymers similar?
Research has shown that marine biopolymers may serve as a potential base material for biodegradable plastics as well as applications in food additives, pharmaceutical and medical polymers, wound dressings, bio-adhesives, dental biomaterials, tissue regeneration and 3D tissue culture scaffolds.
Universiti Malaysia Sabah’s Prof. Madya Dr. Charles S. Vairappan and his team has developed an innovative product called Profeed. This is a probiotic fish feed which has been cleverly developed without costly sterilization by just using a concoction of probiotic microbes to do the job through fermentation. Another possible biopolymer that may be developed is by stressing certain bacteria to produce chemicals to make polymers.
Marine-derived biomaterials science is still relatively new and the marine environment is a relatively untapped resource for the discovery of new enzymes, biopolymers and biomaterials for industrial applications.
|Special facilitation by Assoc. Prof. Dr. Charles S. Vairappan - |
Director, Institute for Tropical Biology and Conservation
This article is written in conjunction with Science Engagement Session at HotScience, Petrosains from 7-8 September 2013 with scientists from, Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) –
1. Assoc. Prof. Dr. Charles S. Vairappan
• Director, Institute for Tropical Biology and Conservation
• Marine Natural Products Chemistry researcher, Institute for Tropical Biology and Conservation
2. Mr. Thulasiramanan Ramachandram, Institute for Tropical Biology and Conservation
3. Mr. Kishneth Palaniveloo, Institute for Tropical Biology and Conservation