Clever Chiral Chemistry

Thursday, 21 September, 2000

University of Melbourne research chemists are synthesising biomolecules without their mirror images.

Chirality in the biotechnology context describes molecules, which are chemically identical, but differ in the orientation of some key atomic groups.

Different chiral forms of molecules can have profoundly different biological effects. For example one form of asparagine is used as a sweetener in foods and beverages, whilst its chiral partner, or isomer, has a bitter taste.

Many pharmaceutical products contain different chiral forms of drugs, some of which are harmful or ineffective.

Currently there is little control over which chiral form of a chemical compound is made during a production process, the result being that generally equal amounts of both chiral forms are produced.

Consequently, often complex separation processes are required to produce the final product and strict quality regimes must be in place so that the unwanted form of the chiral molecule is not present.

The Melbourne research team, in collaboration with colleagues in the Centre for Chiral and Molecular Technologies at Deakin University, is developing reagents based on free-radical chemistry which, when used in synthesis, create just one form of the molecule.

Reagents developed to date have led to synthesised molecules having over 98% of the desired chirality.

Members of the research team include Assoc. Professor Carl Schiesser (Melbourne), Professor Dainis Dakternieks (Deakin) and PhD students Ms Kerri Dunn (Deakin) and Ms Tamara Perchyonok (Melbourne).

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