Detection, synthesis, structure, and function of oligo(3-hydroxyalkanoates): contributions by synthetic organic chemists

Int J Biol Macromol. Jun-Jul 1999;25(1-3):217-36. doi: 10.1016/s0141-8130(99)00037-9.


Two types of the biological macromolecules poly(R-3-hydroxyalkanoates) have been identified: the high-molecular-weight microbial storage material (sPHA) and a short-chain variety, consisting of butyrate and valerate residues, complexed with other biomacromolecules such as calcium polyphosphate or proteins (cPHB/PHV). While sPHA has attracted, and still enjoys, a lot of attention from numerous scientists around the world, research on cPHB and the structurally and functionally related polymalate (PMA) is still in its infancy. In this article, we present a review on the chemical synthesis, structure, function and interactions of monodisperse cPHAs, the oligo(3-hydroxyalkanoates), with emphasis on the butyrates (OHB); we report hitherto unpublished results on the enzymatic degradation of cPHB and PMA, on a new analytical method for HB/HV detection in biological samples, and on OHB-mediated Ca2+ transport through phospholipid bilayers of artificial vesicles; finally, we discuss possible mechanisms of ion transport through cell membranes, as caused by cPHB. The speculative--and provocative--question is asked whether the structurally simple PHAs may have evolved as storage materials and amphiphilic macromolecules before poly-peptides, -saccharides, and -nucleic acids, in the history of life, or under prebiotic conditions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biodegradation, Environmental
  • Calcium Phosphates / chemistry
  • Calcium Phosphates / metabolism
  • Carboxylic Ester Hydrolases / metabolism
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Conformation
  • Molecular Structure
  • Morphogenesis / drug effects
  • Polyesters / chemistry*
  • Polyesters / metabolism*
  • Polyesters / toxicity
  • Teratogens / toxicity


  • Calcium Phosphates
  • Polyesters
  • Teratogens
  • Carboxylic Ester Hydrolases
  • poly-beta-hydroxybutyrate depolymerase