A new automated platform speeds up synthesis of small molecules

Scientists in the US have developed an automated platform to create small organic molecules from a set of simple chemical building blocks, raising the potential to produce a range of compounds from fatty acids to DNA cleaving agents.

Small organic molecules act to regulate processes in nature and biology, serving different purposes in a wide array of fields. Found in pesticides and drugs, the large scale synthesis of these molecules has proven troublesome in recent years, however. Researchers often have to tailor their synthetic approach to the specific molecule they want to manufacture.

A team led by Martin Burke from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have dodged this problem by identifying bifunctional N-methyliminodiacetic acid (MIDA) boronates as a common intermediate building block. MIDA boronates can be used as part of an automated coupling and purification process to produce a diverse range of organic molecules. The researchers were able to produce oligophenylene, a conducting polymer used in semiconductors, and the DNA cleaving agent citreofuran. They say their system has the potential to speed up areas such as drug development.