Twenty years ago, Benjamin List and David WC Macmillan invented a new way of making molecules. It has already dramatically changed the field of chemistry for the better.
This year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry went to scientists who developed an environmentally friendly and cost-effective way to manufacture highly precise molecules. Since its origin in the year 2000, his invention has become a staple for creating a wealth of ingredients integral to our lives. “It is already greatly benefiting mankind,” said Pernilla Wittung Staffcheid, a member of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry.
Benjamin List and David WC Macmillan are what scientists called “elegant” tools for molecule manufacturing. It’s called asymmetric organocatalysis, and it’s absolutely fascinating.
For example, when making a drug, the variety of molecules that make up the drug must be 100% accurate. Just a tiny bond out of place. The obsolete packet of powder should contain a pain-relieving pill – or maybe even something dangerous.
The announcement was made earlier in the day for the list, who said it was a moment he would never forget.
“I thought someone was joking with me,” List remarked to the committee on the first hearing he won the prize. “I was having breakfast with my wife.”
An interesting component of drug manufacturing that medical researchers grapple with deals with mirror images of molecules. Just as our hands are mirror images of each other, so are the images in the molecules. The difference between the two is often so significant that the taste and smell of a left-handed molecule may be different from that of its right-handed counterpart.
Our body can tell mirror images apart, which means that the drugs we consume must be, too.
With this in mind, scientists design specific chemical reactions so that they produce the exact type and mirror image of molecules. Such reactions are controlled, initiated and accelerated by objects called catalysts. Before the pioneering invention of organocatalysis, everyone thought that their alternatives were only metal catalysts or large enzyme catalysts.
While those compounds are effective, they can sometimes go wrong in those important nuances of molecular construction and leave behind a lot of chemical waste. So List and Macmillan’s tools changed the game. This introduced a third, novel catalyst to the pool: small organic molecules that do not have the same issues as metal and enzyme catalysts.
The Witang Staffshed called the trailblazing development an “accurate, cheap, fast and environmentally friendly” alternative to metal and enzyme catalysts.
“You’re not solving a problem, you’re adding something,” said committee member Peter Somfai. “We have a new tool we can use when thinking about — how do we solve this problem?”
“Clear answers or obvious solutions are sometimes too obvious,” he continued. “I’m an organic chemist, I’m working with small organic molecules everyday – but I didn’t think about it. … It was pretty obvious.”
But even though the discovery was first made in the year 2000, List explained to the committee that the method of asymmetric organocatalysis took a full 20 years to in-house. Therefore, he says, the invention is now being recognized.
“The catalysts of our early days were probably a million times less efficient,” he said, adding that now, the team’s highly reactive “can do things you can’t do with enzymes or even the most sophisticated metal complexes.” are what people have. Developed first.”