An Israeli university team says it has developed “a toolbox for scientists” by coming up with a way to select and study complex organic molecules.
Researchers at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa had their findings published by the prestigious journal Nature Chemistry this week.
Led by Professor Ilan Marek, the team said their new technique should let scientists create and study any organic molecule at will, regardless of complexity.
In organic chemistry, the ability to selectively create and investigate each molecule is of crucial importance, because molecules with at least one carbon atom and four different substituents have a mirror image with different properties.
One mirror image can turn out to be a cure and the other a poison, as was famously discovered in the devastating story of thalidomide, the morning sickness drug that caused 10,000 people to be born with birth defects.
The Technion team prepared the molecules in a ring-like formation and strained it, to reduce flexibility, so making it easier to selectively control where to position each atom. They then used a catalyst to help break the bond at a specific point. They did this by using an oxygen atom as “a crane”.
This meant the molecules became interchangeable, like Lego bricks, so that after completing these two steps, the researchers were able to create and study a single product each time out of 16 such possible products.
The results mean organic chemists now have cheap and quick method “to create very complex systems, which often cost a lot of time and money, and were impossible until now to create,” said Marek.
Explaining its interest to chemical and pharmaceutical industries, he added: “What we have developed is a new methodology, or a toolbox, that will benefit the global scientific community. Scientists can now use this method to build on and further expand their research across many different applications.”