Expedient new synthetic methodologies

Assembly-line synthesis of organic molecules with tailored shapes

Matthew Burns, Stéphanie Essafi, Jessica R. Bame, Stephanie P. Bull, Matthew P. Webster, Sébastien Balieu, James W. Dale, Craig P. Butts, Jeremy N. Harvey & Varinder K. Aggarwal. Nature, 2014, 513, 183-188

Molecular 'assembly lines', in which organic molecules undergo iterative processes such as chain elongation and functional group manipulation, are found in many natural systems, including polyketide biosynthesis. Here we report the creation of such an assembly line using the iterative, reagent-controlled homologation of a boronic ester. This process relies on the reactivity of alpha-lithioethyl tri-isopropylbenzoate, which inserts into carbon-boron bonds with exceptionally high fidelity and stereocontrol; each chain-extension step generates a new boronic ester, which is immediately ready for further homologation. We used this method to generate organic molecules that contain ten contiguous, stereochemically defined methyl groups. Several stereoisomers were synthesized and shown to adopt different shapes-helical or linear-depending on the stereochemistry of the methyl groups. This work should facilitate the rational design of molecules with predictable shapes, which could have an impact in areas of molecular sciences in which bespoke molecules are required.