The Mysterious Births of Macromolecules and Life on Earth: Models for Future Materials


Life on earth is frequently argued to have started with the formation of some small organic molecules, polymerized under prebiotic environmental conditions. Facts surrounding the theories are hazy, owing to that fact that the origins of the universe itself and that of compounds critical for life appearance like oxygen, nitrogen, water and biomacromolecules are still matters of debate. Since the formation of biomacromolecules like RNA, DNA, and proteins, is generally considered relative to the origin of life and thus to the polymerization of small organic molecules, an absolute cloud of mystery veils this issue as experimentally-backed information lacks. Worse off, little attention has been paid to the fact that precursors of the first biomacromolecules had to be formed in parallel to or selected among many other macromolecules, logically

Recently, Dr. Michel Vert from the University of Montpellier (also an Emeritus CNRS Research Director) assessed the contributions of the components of polymerology, a neologism that includes chemistry, physical-chemistry, chirality, stability, degradation, replication and self-assembling, which were all crucial for the formation of macromolecules and thus of life on earth. In doing so, he proposed to explore the mysteries surrounding macromolecules and biomacromolecules emergences on Earth from a new viewpoint. In particular,, he hoped to critically compare the prebiotic appearance of macromolecules and biomacromolecules as they are now using today’s polymer science. His work is published in European Polymer Journal.

Dr. Michel Vert thoroughly reviewed polymerology where he considered macromolecule syntheses, effects of physical-chemistry, self-assembling, degradation and finally chirality 3.5 billion years after the appearance of small organic molecules. Next, he assessed the main characteristics of the parent families of synthetic macromolecules to which biomacromolecules belong. Lastly, he engaged in an assessment and review of biomacromolecules 3.5 billion years after prebiotic chemistry.

The author observed that despite the fact that the formation of chemicals that could have served as monomers was possible under prebiotic conditions; their evolution towards high molar mass molecules faced many obstacles in the light of today’s polymerology. He also acknowledged that despite the present technological advancement in matters polymerology, it is still not possible to offer credible origins of macromolecules under prebiotic environmental conditions although macromolecules did appear. Moreover, the comparison with polymerology was noted to offer emphasis on the pertinence of the natural choices that led to the outstanding smartness of biomacromolecules.

In summary, Dr. Michel Vert presented plausible arguments in favor of consistent routes to the first biomacromolecules, where the reference to polymerology was seen to offer emphasis on obstacles that complemented those occasionally found in the origin of life literature. He acknowledged that the historical divergence between synthetic polymers and biomacromoleculessciences should be remedied if one wants to have a chance to solve the mysteries surrounding their genesis. Altogether, polymerology is still in its cradle, it is therefore plausible that one day it will aid resolve the outlined mysteries.

About the author

Dr. Michel Vert: graduated at the University of Paris in 1963 and obtained a DSc state doctorate at the University of Rouen in France in 1969. Joint the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) as a junior scientist in 1965, senior scientist in 1971 and Research Director (Research Professor) in 1984. Founder and Head of the Laboratory of Macromolecular Substances at the National Institute for Applied Sciences at Rouen in 1981. Moved to the University of Montpellier 1 in 1991 to create the Research Centre for Artificial Biopolymers, a CNRS-university Research Mixed Unit. Research activity at the interfaces between chemistry, polymeric biomaterials, biology and health. Retired in 2007 as Emeritus CNRS Research Director, a position that allows continuing research activity.

Main fields of interest: – optically active polymers, – multifunctional polyelectrolytes, -polymers of therapeutic interest, – macromolecular drugs and prodrugs, -degradable and bioresorbable polymers, – smart polymeric systems. Author or co-author of more than 400 major articles and book chapters, and of 28 patents, several of them licensed to companies.

Co-founder of MedinCell and Arterial Remodelling Technologies Companies. Ex-Editor of the Journal of Biomaterials Science: Polymer Edition. Member of the editorial board of several scientific journals. Member of the IUPAC Sub-Committee for Polymer Terminology. Awarded CNRS Silver Medal in 1989, the “Jungfleish” Grand Prix of the French Academy of Sciences in 2001, European Grand Prix of Innovation for the Environment Monaco in 2005 and Grand Prix Georges Winter of the European Society for Biomaterials in 2005.


Michel Vert. Prebiotic macromolecules and today’s biomacromolecules in the light of polymerology.. European Polymer Journal, volume 100 (2018) page 25–36..

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