Biopolymers vs. Synthetic Polymers


What is the Difference?

A major defining difference between biopolymers and other polymers can be found in their structures. All polymers are made of repetitive units called monomers. Biopolymers often have a well-defined structure, though this is not a defining characteristic. The exact chemical composition and the sequence in which these units are arranged is called the primary structure, in the case of proteins. Many biopolymers spontaneously fold into characteristic compact shapes, which determine their biological functions and depend in a complicated way on their primary structures. Structural biology is the study of the structural properties of the biopolymers. In contrast, most synthetic polymers have much simpler and more random structures. This fact leads to a molecular mass distribution that is missing in biopolymers. In fact, as their synthesis is controlled by a template-directed process in most systems, all biopolymers of a type (say one specific protein) are all alike: they all contain the similar sequences and numbers of monomers and thus all have the same mass.