NO, PEOPLE DIDN'T
You may think that polymers are so common that they grow on trees... Well, you're right. When we say that polymers are everywhere, we mean it. In fact polymers have been in nature from the beginning. All living things - plants, animals, and people - are made of polymers.
There are lots of polymers in the sea. Click here to visit the Polyquarium.
Let's start with plants.
Plants are made of a polymer called cellulose. This is the tough stuff that wood and stems - and Paul's tree house! - are made from. Cellulose is also what makes fibers like cotton and hemp that we can twist into threads and weave into clothing. And many plants also make starch. Potatoes, corn, rice, and grains all have a lot of starch. Starch is also a polymer.
Even though starch and cellulose are both made from the same sugar (glucose), they act very differently (because the glucose molecules are joined together differently). Starch will dissolve in water, but cellulose won't. So we make food from starches and we build things and make clothing out of cellulose.
Starch is all twisted up in a tight blob, with lots of branches and ends sticking out all over. Starch is really just a compact way to store a lot of glucose in a small space. Our bodies break the starch down into glucose, which can be used for energy so you can run and jump and play and think.
Plants use cellulose for strength. The cellulose chains are all stretched out, and like to stay tight right next to each other, like raw spaghetti that's all stuck together. That's why cellulose can hold up the tallest trees! And wooden houses too! Cotton is mostly cellulose - those stretched-out chains make great fibers.
The cellulose in vegetables and grains is the fiber in our foods. We can't digest it, but it's good for us because it helps keep our insides clean.
Cellulose and starches are both made from sugars - so they're called polysaccharides (meaning "many sugars").
Another useful natural polymer produced by plants is rubber. It has been harvested from trees in Central and South America for hundreds of years. In the last couple hundred years people have figured out ways to make it stronger and more durable. And scientists have been very successful in inventing their own versions of rubber for different purposes.
Feathers and fur, hair and fingernails (even animal hooves), are all made of the protein keratin. Wool is made from sheep hair, and is great for clothing and fabric. Wool is warm and sometimes a little itchy, but it's still widely used. You'll find it everywhere from hats to skirts to the inside of a piano... and of course in sweaters. In fact many kinds of animal hair besides wool have been used to make clothing. Angora rabbits have extra light, soft, fluffy fur. Cashmere is a wool that comes from special goats, and is very soft and long-wearing. Alpacas and llamas also produce wool that's soft and warm.
Another great protein is silk - a sort of fiber made by special caterpillars. This stuff has been used for thousands of years to make beautiful fabric for clothing. And though people have made their own version of silk called nylon, there's still nothing out there quite like silk. Spider silk is incredibly strong for its weight, and scientists have been working hard to mimic this fiber, too.
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