Giving photochemistry a hand

September 3, 2005

Making molecules with the right handedness - either a left- or a right-handed arrangement of atomic groupings - is of critical importance to the pharmaceutical industry, as the two different 'handed' forms (called enantiomers) of some drugs can have very different physiological effects. Controlling this molecular arrangement is challenging and often possible only for very specific types of reaction.

That's why the process devised by Thorsten Bach and colleagues will be welcomed. In a Letter published in this week’s Nature, the team propose a way to control enantiomer selectivity in a reaction induced by light. Such 'photochemical' processes are quite common in synthetic chemistry, as well as being essential to the natural process of photosynthesis. Often they involve moving an electron from one molecule, or part of a molecule, to another, and it is such a photoinduced electron transfer process that Bach and colleagues have now brought under control.

The researchers do this with a catalyst: an organic molecule that guides the reaction along the right path and then moves off to do the same so another molecule. The catalyst in this case is a molecule that sticks to the reactant molecule (which is to be transformed into a product molecule with a particular handedness), absorbs light and then uses the energy to take an electron from the reactant. As a result of this electron transfer, the reactant becomes rearranged into a product molecule with the desired handedness - here, the catalyst acts as a kind of glove that only the correct hand will fit. A News and Views article by Yoshihisa Inoue accompanies this research.

Source: Nature Publishing Group

Explore further: New technique to accurately detect the 'handedness' of molecules in a mixture

Related Stories

The origins of handedness in life

October 1, 2014

Handedness is a complicated business. To simply say life is left-handed doesn't even begin to capture the blooming hierarchy of binary refinements it continues to evolve. Over the years there have been numerous imaginative ...

Recommended for you

A cataclysmic event of a certain age

July 27, 2015

At the end of the Pleistocene period, approximately 12,800 years ago—give or take a few centuries—a cosmic impact triggered an abrupt cooling episode that earth scientists refer to as the Younger Dryas.

New blow for 'supersymmetry' physics theory

July 27, 2015

In a new blow for the futuristic "supersymmetry" theory of the universe's basic anatomy, experts reported fresh evidence Monday of subatomic activity consistent with the mainstream Standard Model of particle physics.

Dense star clusters shown to be binary black hole factories

July 29, 2015

The coalescence of two black holes—a very violent and exotic event—is one of the most sought-after observations of modern astronomy. But, as these mergers emit no light of any kind, finding such elusive events has been ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.