Humic Substances: From Supramolecular Aggregation to Fractal Conformation-Is There Time for a New Paradigm?
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Natural organic matter, including humic substances (HS), comprises complex secondary structures with no defined covalent chemical bonds and stabilized by inter- and intra-molecular interactions, such as hydrogen bonding, Van der Waal's forces, and pi-pi interactions. The latest view describes HS aggregates as a hydrogel-like structure comprised by a hydrophobic core of aromatic residues surrounded by polar and amphiphilic molecules akin a self-assembled soft material. A different view is based on the classification of this material as either mass or surface fractals. The former is intended as made by the clustering of macromolecules generating dendritic networks, while the latter have been modelled in terms of a solvent-impenetrable core surrounded by a layer of lyophilic material. This study reviews the evolution of the increasingly refined models that appeared in the literature, all capable to describing the physicochemical properties of HS. All the models are critically examined and revisited in terms of their ability to provide key information on the structural organization of HS. Understanding how the molecular association pathway influences aggregation of HS also provides a key acknowledgment of their role in the environment.
Keywordshumic substances, dissolved organic matter, supramolecular arrangement, fractal structures, macromolecular coils, humic pseudo-micelles, humic superstructure, hybrid hydrogel
Document typePeer reviewed
Document versionFinal PDF
SourceApplied Sciences - Basel. 2023, vol. 13, issue 4, p. 1-32.