An employee monitors a mixing machine at a pharmaceutical plant

A molecule can give rise to catalysts with uses in pharmaceutical manufacturing. Credit: Oliver Bunic/Bloomberg/Getty

Chemistry

A molecule that manufactures asymmetry

Compound’s variations could spawn catalysts that favour certain chiral forms.

A new clam-shaped molecule could form the basis for a range of catalysts that have uses in common industrial reactions.

The molecule is chiral — its mirror-image forms cannot be superimposed on each other — and so can be made in many structural variations. Specifically, the compound exhibits axial chirality, in which parts of the molecule cannot rotate freely relative to the rest. The molecule, created by Joanna Wencel-Delord, Françoise Colobert and their colleagues at the University of Strasbourg in France, contains two chiral axes that were created in a single step.

The structure can be transformed into a variety of catalysts that are highly effective at driving ‘asymmetric syntheses’: reactions that favour the synthesis of one chiral form of a product over another. These types of catalyst are sought in pharmaceutical manufacturing, because mirror-image variations of a structure often have different biological effects.

The authors hope that the architecture of these molecules will also allow chemists to create catalysts that can trigger new reactions.