Technology-driven systems may transform chemical synthesis
M. Burke/Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Mother Nature is a lazy chemist. Occasionally, she produces an organic molecule that’s a winning drug. But more often, a nature-made chemical’s medicinal powers are coupled with flaws, such as brutal side effects. Until recently, upping the safety of those drugs by retooling their parts was a lot like assembling Ikea furniture.
Take amphotericin B, a lifesaving but toxic antifungal medicine. To build a better version, chemists would need to translate a series of tauntingly simple stick-figure diagrams into actual chemistry, coming up with chemical reactions to attach and rejigger dozens of atomic parts. This hands-on approach could take more than 100 steps.
Enter automation. A new technique can snap a potential new drug together in just a few steps. The system is like chemistry’s Easy-Bake oven: assembling premade ingredients and serving up custom small molecules at the push of a button.