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Optical enrichment of a racemic chiral crystal by X-ray irradiation

Naturevolume 352pages510512 (1991) | Download Citation



GENERATION of optical activity in a racemic mixture of enantiomers, a process relevant to the origin of life and of naturally chiral compounds1, requires chirality in the interaction responsible for the transformation or the environment in which it occurs. Without violating this strict requirement, we have found a way in which optical enrichment of a racemic mixture can occur without any chiral specificity in the mechanism. A racemic mixture of (1-cyanoethyl)(piperidine)cobaloxime, which contains the chiral 1-cyanoethyl group, crystallizes in a chiral space group (P212121) in which R and S enantiomers occupy crystallographically distinct (diastereoisomeric) positions in the asymmetric unit cell. We have prepared single crystals of the D configuration. Irradiating the crystal with X-rays at 343 K causes racemization of the S en-antiomer while the R enantiomer remains unaltered. This racemization is thought to be due solely to the different volume constraints on the two enantiomers in their different crystal environments. The result is that the number of R molecules is increased at the expense of S, and so the overall composition of the crystal changes from racemic to enriched in the R enantiomer.

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  1. Department of Chemistry, Tokyo Institute of Technology, 2-12-1, Ookayama, Meguro-ku, Tokyo, 152, Japan

    • Yasuko T. Osano
    • , Akira Uchida
    •  & Yuji Ohashi


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