A group at CNRS in France has developed ultra-high precision synthetic polymers with precisely controlled chain lengths and monomer sequences that can store data and so be used to provide traceability and fight counterfeit products.
Counterfeiting of medical devices for example is a significant problem. The World Health Organization estimates that more than eight percent of the medical devices in circulation are counterfeits and the group is building and inserting sequence-defined polymers in medical devices like ocular implants. The polymers can be extracted later and identified by tandem mass spectroscopy, requiring the new test techniques.
"When you can store code in a molecule, you can imagine that with a single molecule you can write something, such as the name of a company, a batch number or production date," said Jean-François Lutz, research director at the Fench research group CNRS, deputy director of the Institut Charles Sadron, and head of the Precision Macromolecular Chemistry group. "You have a molecule that you can directly blend with various materials, such as plastics or ceramics. We could put the molecule in the screen of a smartphone, a medical device or an implant in the body."
The researchers are presenting their results today at the American Chemical Society (ACS) Spring 2019 National Meeting & Exposition in Florida.
"There are basically two types of polymers," says Lutz. "One type is plastic, which is made by humans. The other type is called a biopolymer, and it is a much more defined molecule. In fact, humans are mostly constructed with polymers -- DNA and proteins. The purpose of our work is to fill in the gap -- to make synthetic polymers using biological inspiration."