Reviews & Analysis

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  • The electrochemical synthesis of high-value chemicals is still far from industrial application, mostly due to the lack of stable and efficient catalysts. Now evidence reveals that gaining a fundamental understanding of an electrochemical reaction can lead to faster development of optimal catalytic materials.

    • Marta C. Figueiredo
    News & Views
  • Advances in enzyme performance and capabilities are making them increasingly attractive to synthetic chemists. In this Review Chen and Arnold outline the ways that enzymes have been engineered to achieve reactivities well beyond their original functions.

    • Kai Chen
    • Frances H. Arnold
    Review Article
  • Genetic incorporation of unnatural amino acids into proteins broadens the possibilities of enzyme design. This Perspective discusses the exciting opportunities for biocatalysis offered by this method — such as new-to-nature catalytic activities — and potential benefits over classical enzyme engineering.

    • Ivana Drienovská
    • Gerard Roelfes
  • Intensified interest in the area of nickel catalysis has driven the quest for an air-stable and modular Ni(0) precatalyst. Now, an air-stable Ni(0)-olefin precatalyst allows for the convenient set-up of nickel-catalysed reactions on the benchtop.

    • Timothy B. Boit
    • Katie A. Spence
    • Neil K. Garg
    News & Views
  • Simple methods to incorporate deuterium into organic compounds are highly sought after as deuteration can enable mechanistic studies or improve the metabolic stability of pharmaceuticals. Now, a catalytic hydrogen–deuterium exchange reaction using deuterated water allows convenient access to deuterated aldehyde building blocks.

    • Sarah M. Anthony
    • Andrew V. Kelleghan
    • Neil K. Garg
    News & Views
  • Because of the high strength of N≡N bonds, N2 is often employed as an inert gas. Now it has been shown that it can partly react to yield surface nitrogen species that facilitate C–O hydrogenolysis reactions on supported Ru catalysts.

    • Thomas J. Schwartz
    News & Views
  • Carbon monoxide can be electrochemically transformed to multi-carbon products selectively at high rates, raising the prospect of a two-step pathway to transform CO2 into value-added chemical products. This Perspective highlights recent progress complemented by a techno-economic analysis of the two-step conversion process and cradle-to-gate lifecycle assessment.

    • Matthew Jouny
    • Gregory S. Hutchings
    • Feng Jiao
  • Bioelectrocatalysis provides access to sustainable and highly efficient technological applications, but several limitations still prevent the large-scale integration of such devices. This Review discusses the current status of hydrogenase-based biofuel cells and biophotoelectrodes for solar energy harvesting.

    • Adrian Ruff
    • Felipe Conzuelo
    • Wolfgang Schuhmann
    Review Article
  • Enzymes require many, often hundreds, of amino acid residues arranged in a protein fold to promote catalysis. Now, self-assembly of a single amino acid — phenylalanine — in the presence of zinc is shown to form supramolecular structures that promote hydrolysis better than natural enzymes on a weight basis.

    • Olga V. Makhlynets
    • Ivan V. Korendovych
    News & Views
  • Bio-inspired by cellular respiration, the richness of oxygen redox chemistry is a cutting-edge field for building lithium batteries. While the Li–air battery uses external oxygen, a new lithium battery offers a high energy-density and long-term cycling stability just by confining oxygen and lithium between graphene oxides.

    • Yachao Zhu
    • Olivier Fontaine
    News & Views
  • The energies of the species in a given reaction network are linked by linear scaling relationships, limiting the design of catalysts with improved activity and selectivity. In this Perspective, López and Pérez-Ramírez discuss strategies to circumvent such scaling relationships.

    • Javier Pérez-Ramírez
    • Núria López
  • Imine reductases are promising catalysts, facilitating a direct stereoselective route to secondary amines. Now, protein engineering has created stable and efficient variants that allow their application in kilogram-scale synthesis.

    • Matthias Höhne
    News & Views
  • Given the importance of enantioenriched β2- and β3-amino acids as building blocks, direct and versatile methods for their synthesis are highly coveted by organic chemists. Now, using easily accessible 1,3-oxazinane motifs, a regiodivergent and enantioselective C–H functionalization method permits their synthesis in a straightforward and practical fashion.

    • Oriol Planas
    • Josep Cornella
    News & Views
  • The design of heterogeneous catalysts with tunable activity and selectivity constitutes a remarkable challenge. Now, a synthetic approach towards producing nanocrystals encapsulated within polymer layers has been developed, unravelling the principles to achieve control of transition state and product diffusion using CO oxidation as a case study.

    • Qiang Fu
    • Xinhe Bao
    News & Views
  • Transition metal-catalysed bioorthogonal reactions are severely hindered in biomedical applications, mainly due to a lack of target specificity. Now, research shows that a trojan exosome vesicle can deliver a palladium catalyst specifically to progenitor cells for bioorthogonal catalysis, allowing localized prodrug activation.

    • Zhi Du
    • Xiaogang Qu
    News & Views
  • While the oxidative addition of Pd to carbon–halide bonds is often regarded as being essentially irreversible, this is sometimes not the case. This Perspective looks at the conditions leading to reductive elimination of Pd from carbon–halide bonds, and the synthetic opportunities that this offers are discussed.

    • David J. Jones
    • Mark Lautens
    • Gerard P. McGlacken
  • Fusion systems have been designed that link enzymes to cofactors and immobilization modules through appropriate synthetic spacers. These modular biocatalysts (assembling catalysis, cofactor provision/regeneration and assisted immobilization) are suited to heterogeneous biocatalysis systems and can be efficiently used in continuous flow reactors.

    • Martina Letizia Contente
    • Francesco Molinari
    News & Views
  • Conventional experiments for generating proteins with improved properties by directed evolution are iterative, lengthy and costly. Now, a label-free assay has been developed for ultrahigh-throughput microfluidic screening that can dramatically accelerate the discovery of superior biocatalysts from a single round of genetic randomization.

    • Wolf-Dieter Fessner
    News & Views
  • A strategy using pressure was devised to structurally identify conformational transitions in protein ensembles, allowing the rational prediction of mutations that induce pressure-driven enzyme activation. These results highlight the power of flexibility–function analyses in protein engineering design and applications.

    • Nicolas Doucet
    News & Views