COLUMBUS, Ohio -- When chemists want to produce a lot of a substance -- such as a newly designed drug -- they often turn to catalysts, molecules that speed chemical reactions. Many jobs require highly specialized catalysts, and finding one in just the right shape to connect with certain molecules can be difficult. Natural catalysts, such as enzymes in the human body that help us digest food, get around this problem by shape-shifting to suit the task at hand.
Chemists have made little progress in getting synthetic molecules to mimic this shape shifting behavior -- until now.
Ohio State University chemists have created a synthetic catalyst that can fold its molecular structure into a specific shape for a specific job, similar to natural catalysts.
In laboratory tests, researchers were able to cause a synthetic catalyst -- an enzyme-like molecule that enables hydrogenation, a reaction used to transform fats in the food industry -- to fold itself into a specific shape, or into its mirror image.
The study appears in the June 25 issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
Being able to quickly produce a catalyst of a particular shape would be a boon for the pharmaceutical and chemical industries, said Jonathan Parquette, professor of chemistry at Ohio State.
The nature of the fold in a molecule determines its shape and function, he explained. Natural catalysts reconfigure themselves over and over again in response to different chemical cues -- as enzymes do in the body, for example.
When scientists need a catalyst of a particular shape or function, they synthesize it through a process that involves a lot of trial and error.
"It's not uncommon to have to synthesize dozens of different catalysts before you get the shape you're looking for," Parquette said. "Probably the most important contribution this research makes is that it might give scientists a quick and easy way to get th
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Ohio State University