Structure-Thermodynamic Relationship of a Polysaccharide Gel (Alginate) as a Function of Water Content and Counterion Type (Na vs Ca)

Avery A. Agles, Ian C. Bourg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Biofilms are the predominant mode of microbial life on Earth, and so a deep understanding of microbial communities─and their impacts on environmental processes─requires a firm understanding of biofilm properties. Because of the importance of biofilms to their microbial inhabitants, microbes have evolved different ways of engineering and reconfiguring the matrix of extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) that constitute the main non-living component of biofilms. This ability makes it difficult to distinguish between the biotic and abiotic origins of biofilm properties. An important route toward establishing this distinction has been the study of simplified models of the EPS matrix. This study builds on such efforts by using atomistic simulations to predict the nanoscale (≤10 nm scale) structure of a model EPS matrix and the sensitivity of this structure to interpolymer interactions and water content. To accomplish this, we use replica exchange molecular dynamics (REMD) simulations to generate all-atom configurations of ten 3.4 kDa alginate polymers at a range of water contents and Ca-Na ratios. Simulated systems are solvated with explicitly modeled water molecules, which allows us to capture the discrete structure of the hydrating water and to examine the thermodynamic stability of water in the gels as they are progressively dehydrated. Our primary findings are that (i) the structure of the hydrogels is highly sensitive to the identity of the charge-compensating cations, (ii) the thermodynamics of water within the gels (specific enthalpy and free energy) are, surprisingly, only weakly sensitive to cation identity, and (iii) predictions of the differential enthalpy and free energy of hydration include a short-ranged enthalpic term that promotes hydration and a longer-ranged (presumably entropic) term that promotes dehydration, where short and long ranges refer to distances shorter or longer than ∼0.6 nm between alginate strands.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1828-1841
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Physical Chemistry B
Issue number8
StatePublished - Mar 2 2023
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Materials Chemistry
  • Surfaces, Coatings and Films
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry


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