Designing Electrostatic Interactions via Polyelectrolyte Monomer Sequence

Tyler K. Lytle, Li Wei Chang, Natalia Markiewicz, Sarah L. Perry, Charles E. Sing

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Charged polymers are ubiquitous in biological systems because electrostatic interactions can drive complicated structure formation and respond to environmental parameters such as ionic strength and pH. In these systems, function emerges from sophisticated molecular design; for example, intrinsically disordered proteins leverage specific sequences of monomeric charges to control the formation and function of intracellular compartments known as membraneless organelles. The role of a charged monomer sequence in dictating the strength of electrostatic interactions remains poorly understood despite extensive evidence that sequence is a powerful tool biology uses to tune soft materials. In this article, we use a combination of theory, experiment, and simulation to establish the physical principles governing sequence-driven control of electrostatic interactions. We predict how arbitrary sequences of charge give rise to drastic changes in electrostatic interactions and correspondingly phase behavior. We generalize a transfer matrix formalism that describes a phase separation phenomenon known as "complex coacervation" and provide a theoretical framework to predict the phase behavior of charge sequences. This work thus provides insights into both how charge sequence is used in biology and how it could be used to engineer properties of synthetic polymer systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)709-718
Number of pages10
JournalACS Central Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 24 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • General Chemical Engineering


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