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Keywords:

  • mesophases;
  • biological liquid crystals;
  • self-assembly;
  • rheology;
  • biological polymer processing

Abstract

A review of thermodynamic, materials science, and rheological liquid crystal models is presented and applied to a wide range of biological liquid crystals, including helicoidal plywoods, biopolymer solutions, and in vivo liquid crystals. The distinguishing characteristics of liquid crystals (self-assembly, packing, defects, functionalities, processability) are discussed in relation to biological materials and the strong correspondence between different synthetic and biological materials is established. Biological polymer processing based on liquid crystalline precursors includes viscoelastic flow to form and shape fibers. Viscoelastic models for nematic and chiral nematics are reviewed and discussed in terms of key parameters that facilitate understanding and quantitative information from optical textures and rheometers. It is shown that viscoelastic modeling the silk spinning process using liquid crystal theories sheds light on textural transitions in the duct of spiders and silk worms as well as on tactoidal drops and interfacial structures. The range and consistency of the predictions demonstrates that the use of mesoscopic liquid crystal models is another tool to develop the science and biomimetic applications of mesogenic biological soft matter. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Biopolymers 97: 374–396, 2012.