Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL, USA.
Alabama Water Institute, The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL, USA.
Abstract: Artificial supramolecular receptors often rely on weak intermolecular interactions for their chemical recognition properties, so they may struggle to work in competitive media, chief among
which are water solutions. However, aqueous media are very important in analytical, environmental, and biomedical applications, so it is valuable to adapt our supramolecular tools to them. With the right tools, even the weakest noncovalent interactions can be pressed into service in aqueous media. We have been using water-soluble polymers (e.g. dendrimers, hydrogels, conjugated polymers) as scaffolds to build multivalent supramolecular sensors that take advantage of the large number of interactions and of the preorganization of receptor sites afforded by such scaffolds, resulting in improved affinity in buffered aqueous solutions near neutral pH. We have successfully built systems for the detection of interesting guest families, including carboxylate anions, simple saccharides, heavy metal cations, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. These are examples of a general approach with two key advantages. On the one hand, installing known receptor chemistry on a polymer scaffold affords a modular approach to multivalency with minimal design and synthesis effort. This improves the apparent strength of weaker interactions and allows them to overcome desolvation costs in water. On the other hand, water-soluble macromolecular scaffolds impart solubility to water-incompatible receptor families.
This simple approach is particularly valuable when designing chemical fingerprinting systems (sometimes referred to as an “electronic nose” or “tongue”) that typically require many different receptors, each one poorly selective, and recovers selectivity from judicious interpretation of the ensemble response.