Assembling chemicals can be like putting together a puzzle. University of Illinois chemists have developed a way of fitting the pieces together to more efficiently build complex molecules, beginning with a powerful and promising antioxidant.
Led by chemistry professor Martin Burke, the team published its research on the cover of the chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie. Burke’s group is known for developing a synthesis technique called iterative cross-coupling (ICC) that uses simple, stable chemical “building blocks” sequentially joined in a repetitive reaction. With more than 75 of the building blocks available commercially, pharmaceutical companies and other laboratories use ICC to create complex small molecules that could have medicinal properties.
“There’s pre-installed functionality and stereochemistry, so everything is set in the building blocks, and all you have to do is couple them together,” said graduate student Seiko Fujii, the first author of the paper.
However, ICC has been limited to only molecules with one type of polarity. Now, the group has developed reverse-polarity ICC, which allows a chemist to optimize the ICC process to match the target molecules’ electronic structure. The reversal in polarity enables a whole new class of building blocks, so researchers can synthesize molecules more efficiently and even construct molecules that standard ICC cannot. For example, in the paper, the group used the new method to make synechoxanthin (pronounced sin-ecko-ZAN-thin), a molecule first isolated from bacteria in 2008 that shows great promise as an antioxidant. Studies suggest that synechoxanthin allows the bacteria that produce it to live and thrive in highly oxidative environments.