Nobel for work on ‘click chemistry’ and quantum mechanics

Source: The post is based on the following articles“Nobel Prize 2022: Making chemistry click” published in Indian Express on 6th October 2022.

“Nobel for work on ‘click chemistry’ and quantum mechanics” published in The Hindu on 6th October 2022.

What is the News?

Carolyn Bertozzi and Barry Sharpless of the United States and Morten Meldal of Denmark have been given the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for developing the relatively recent field of ‘Click Chemistry’ and demonstrating its vast potential in pharmaceutical and other industries.

Their work has made a strong case for adopting an alternative approach to producing new complex molecules in the laboratory or industry, which minimises waste and increases overall efficiency.

Note: Barry Sharpless has now won the Nobel Prize for the second time (First in 2001), making him only the fifth scientist to achieve this distinction.

What is the need for an alternative approach to producing complex molecules?

There are several naturally-occurring enzymes that facilitate complex biochemical reactions in living organisms during which a particular desirable molecule might be produced.

Human beings can replicate some of these reactions to produce the same desirable molecule, but for that to happen, they first have to access those enzymes.

Producing those enzymes can add several layers to the original objective of reproducing the biochemical reactions to get the desired molecule. This is time-consuming and can lead to wastage and cost escalations.

So, there is a need for an alternative approach to producing such enzymes.

Must read: Svante Paabo awarded Nobel Prize in Medicine: Mapping Neanderthal genome
What is Click Chemistry?

Barry Sharpless is the originator of the concept of ‘Click Chemistry’. The name ‘click ‘has been taken from the click sound that airline seat belts make when they are fastened.

The idea is that while trying to produce any particular compound or a complex molecule, one must look for starting molecules that easily react with each other.

In other words, scientists have to look for molecules that easily fit into each other, or ‘click’ with each other. It makes the resultant chemical reaction more efficient.

The reacting molecules should be in a made-for-each-other kind of situation for this particular reaction, so that the reaction was irreversible and 100% efficiency was achieved

This click approach emphasised the need to replicate nature’s efficiency, not its processes, or even products.

Must read: Facts about Nobel Prize
What are the applications of click chemistry?

The pharmaceutical industry uses a lot of naturally occurring but industrially synthesised molecules. Every kilogram of a drug produced results in the generation of nearly 25-100 kg of chemical waste. This can be reduced by click chemistry.

For instance, Sharpless discovered that the use of copper as a catalyst eliminated all the by-products to produce a nitrogen-containing cyclic compound and ensured only the desired chemical was produced.

Click’ Chemistry could work in the chemical processes happening in the living cells as well. This has shown the promise of treating advanced cancer. Cancer drugs based on this approach are now undergoing clinical trials.

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