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Bristol researchers mimic nature with creation of ‘molecular assembly line’

Artist's impression of molecular assembly line © 2014 Amber Webster, All Rights Reserved.

12 April 2017

A team of researchers from the University of Bristol has developed a process to create molecules which resemble some of the most complex and important found in nature.

The paper published in the journal, Nature Chemistry, describes the synthesis of a very important class of molecules called polyketides which have a broad range of biological properties important for human health, including antibiotic, antitumor, antifungal and antiparasitic.

The process – which can be likened to a molecular assembly line - involves adding different classes of reagents (substances) to a growing carbon chain with exceptionally high fidelity and stereocontrol.

Professor Varinder K. Aggarwal, from the University of Bristol’s School of Chemistry, explains: 

"In nature a simple building block is passed from one enzyme domain to another, growing as it does until the target molecule is formed. We have sought to emulate nature in the construction of our own molecular assembly line.

"Iterative processes are usually very challenging as each iteration should occur with >99% efficiency, and >99% stereocontrol. We have now discovered a suite of reagents that comply with these exacting requirements which enable conversion of a simple building block into complex polyketide-like molecules with remarkably high precision.

"Essentially we have found a way to rationally design and create molecules which have the same biological properties as the polyketide family of natural products. This has a wide range of applications for human health."

A video illustrating the assembly line synthesis can be viewed here. © 2014 Amber Webster, All Rights Reserved.

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