Chemists harness power of light to tackle asymmetrical molecules

February 4, 2019, Florida State University
FSU researchers used light to turn a left-handed molecule into a right-handed one. Credit: Assistant Professor of Chemistry Ken Hanson

No, molecules do not actually have hands. But scientists refer to them in this way when looking at asymmetric molecules that are mirror images of one another and therefore are not superimposable. Whether a molecule is a "lefty" or "righty" also influences how they behave—critical information for researchers.

Now a team of Florida State University researchers has found a way to turn a "left-handed" molecule into a "right-handed" one—a process that could have important implications for .

In the journal Chemical Communications, Assistant Professor Ken Hanson and his team explain how a left-handed molecule could be turned into a right-handed one by way of a light-induced proton transfer.

"This means we wouldn't have to throw half of a chemical solution away when we only want the right-handed molecules," said Hanson.

The lack of understanding of chirality or the property of asymmetry in has had severe consequences in the past.

In the 1950s, a sedative called thalidomide was sold in Europe as a treatment for morning sickness. It was later discovered that while the left-handed molecule for thalidomide was effective, the right-handed one was toxic. Thousands of children of mothers who took the were born with severe birth defects.

Because of this and other cases, are hyper focused on the left-hand versus right issue in their drug screening process.

"Since handedness matters in biology, it's very important in drug design and discovery," Hanson said.

In this study, Hanson used an organic compound called BINOL and attached a left-handed amino acid to it. Then, the team shone light directly on the compound.

This altered a 50-50 mixture of left and right-handed BINOL into a predominantly right-handed mixture. The right-handed BINOL can then be used as catalyst to generate a broad range of drugs with a specific handedness.

Hanson said that his research team plans to follow up by refining the process and creating a purer sample.

"This study was just a proof of concept to show that it could be done," Hanson said.

Explore further: Chemists find way to prevent side effects from malaria medication

More information: Suliman Ayad et al, Enantioenrichment of racemic BINOL by way of excited state proton transfer, Chemical Communications (2019). DOI: 10.1039/C8CC07949H

Related Stories

Nature's mirror—the code for chirality

February 8, 2016

How information is transferred from biological molecules to crystalline surfaces could pave the way for the development of new drugs and other synthetic materials.

New method to determine molecule chirality

February 20, 2018

Identifying right-handed and left-handed molecules is a crucial step for many applications in chemistry and pharmaceutics. An international research team (CELIA-CNRS/INRS/Berlin Max Born Institute/SOLEIL) has now presented ...

Chiral crabs

September 22, 2017

Sander Wezenberg, and PhD students Thomas van Leeuwen and Kaja Sitkowska, from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, spoke to us about their work in chirality and molecular motors, and the seaside scene on the cover ...

New tools for creating mirrored forms of molecules

October 25, 2018

One of the biggest challenges facing synthetic chemists is how to make molecules of only a particular "handedness." Molecules can come in two shapes that mirror each other, just like our left and right hands. This characteristic, ...

Recommended for you

In colliding galaxies, a pipsqueak shines bright

February 20, 2019

In the nearby Whirlpool galaxy and its companion galaxy, M51b, two supermassive black holes heat up and devour surrounding material. These two monsters should be the most luminous X-ray sources in sight, but a new study using ...

When does one of the central ideas in economics work?

February 20, 2019

The concept of equilibrium is one of the most central ideas in economics. It is one of the core assumptions in the vast majority of economic models, including models used by policymakers on issues ranging from monetary policy ...

Research reveals why the zebra got its stripes

February 20, 2019

Why do zebras have stripes? A study published in PLOS ONE today takes us another step closer to answering this puzzling question and to understanding how stripes actually work.

Correlated nucleons may solve 35-year-old mystery

February 20, 2019

A careful re-analysis of data taken at the Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility has revealed a possible link between correlated protons and neutrons in the nucleus and a 35-year-old mystery. ...


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.