Bringing chemical synthesis to the masses

Bringing chemical synthesis to the masses by Michael Gross.

From the post:

You too can create thousands of new compounds and screen them for a desired activity. That is the promise of a novel approach to building chemical libraries, which only requires simple building blocks in water, without any additional reagents or sample preparation.1

Jeffrey Bode from ETH Zurich and his co-worker Yi-Lin Huang took inspiration both from nature’s non-ribosomal peptide synthesis and from click chemistry. Nature uses specialised non-ribosomal enzymes to create a number of unusual peptides outside the normal paths of protein biosynthesis including, for instance, pharmaceutically relevant peptides like the antibiotic vancomycin. Bode and Huang have now produced these sorts of compounds without cells or enzymes, simply relying on the right chemistry.

Given the simplicity of the process and the absence of toxic reagents and by-products, Bode anticipates that it could even be widely used by non-chemists. ‘Our idea is to provide a quick way to make bioactive molecules just by mixing the components in water,’ Bode explains. ‘We would like to use this as a platform for chemistry that anyone can do, including scientists in other fields, high school students and farmers. Anyone could prepare libraries in a few hours with a micropipette, explore different combinations of building blocks and culture conditions along with simple assays to find novel molecules.’

Bode either wasn’t a humanities major or he missed the class on keeping lay people away from routine tasks. Everyone knows that routine tasks, like reading manuscripts must be reserved for graduate students under the fiction that only an “expert” can read non-printed material.

To be fair, there are manuscript characters or usages that require an expert opinion but those can be quickly isolated by statistical analysis of disagreement between different readers. Assuming effective transcription interfaces for manuscripts and a large enough body of readers.

That would reduce the number of personal fiefdoms built on access to particular manuscripts but that prospect finds me untroubled.

You can imagine the naming issues that will ensue from wide spread chemical synthesis by the masses. But, there is too much to be discovered to be miserly with means of discovery or dissemination of those results.

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