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In chemistry, an oligomer (//) (oligo-, "a few" + -mer, "parts") is a molecular complex that consists of a few monomer units, in contrast to a polymer that, at least in principle, consists of a nearly unlimited number of monomers. Dimers, trimers, and tetramers are, for instance, oligomers respectively composed of two, three and four monomers.
In the context of biochemistry, an oligomer is usually referred to as a macromolecular complex formed by non-covalent bonding of a few macromolecules like proteins or nucleic acids. In this sense, a homo-oligomer would be formed by few identical molecules and by contrast, a hetero-oligomer would be made of three different macromolecules. Collagen is an example of homo-oligomeric protein that is composed of three identical protein chains. The term multimer (//) (multi-, "more than one" + -mer, "part") is used with a meaning similar to that of oligomer in the context of proteins (although technical restrictions of word sense may exist).
Many oils are oligomeric, such as liquid paraffin. Plasticizers are oligomeric esters widely used to soften thermoplastics such as PVC. They may be made from monomers by linking them together, or by separation from the higher fractions of crude oil. Polybutene is an oligomeric oil used to make putty. Greek prefixes are often used to designate the number of monomer units in the oligomer, for example a tetramer being composed of four units and a hexamer of six.
In biochemistry, the term oligonucleotide - or, informally, "oligo" - is used for short, single-stranded nucleic acid fragments, such as DNA or RNA, or similar fragments of analogs of nucleic acids such as peptide nucleic acid or Morpholinos. Such oligos are used in hybridization experiments (bound to glass slides or nylon membranes), as probes for in situ hybridization or in antisense experiments such as gene knockdowns. It can also refer to a protein complex made of two or more subunits. In this case, a complex made of several different protein subunits is called a hetero-oligomer or heteromer. When only one type of protein subunit is used in the complex, it is called a homo-oligomer or homomer.
Oligomerization is a chemical process that converts monomers to macromolecular complexes through a finite degree of polymerization. The actual figure for degree of polymerization is a matter of debate, often a value between 10 and 100.
When an oligomer forms as a result of chain transfer the oligomer is called a telomer and the process telomerization. A telomere is a region of highly repetitive DNA at the end of a linear chromosome.
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