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Keywords:

  • biopolymers;
  • hydrogels;
  • mechanical properties;
  • polyelectrolytes;
  • swelling

Abstract

Beads containing a chitosan core and a polyelectrolyte complex (PEC) shell were formed by the dropwise addition of chitosan to solutions containing sodium alginate, gellan, pectin, κ-carrageenan, or poly(acrylic acid). Hydrogel cores were formed by crosslinking chitosan with genipin, a natural bifunctional crosslinker. The shell thickness was generally only a few molecules thick and was impermeable to the transport of macromolecules but not low molecular weight molecules. Increasing the number of anionic groups and the strength of the chitosan–polyanion interaction through selection of different anionic species increased the mechanical strength of the PEC shell by increasing the number of interaction points in the shell. Because the core and shell swelled differentially, with the shell able to swell much less than the core, increasing the shell strength increasingly constrained the degree of swelling that could be attained for the entire bead. The degree of swelling could therefore be controlled via the mechanical properties of the shell, which could in turn be explained by the molecular structure of the PEC shell. © 2005 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Appl Polym Sci 98: 1581–1593, 2005