Final Report Summary - NATCAT (Emulating Nature through Asymmetric Catalysis)
Modern synthetic chemistry has equipped chemists with a formidable array of tools to assemble large and complex materials. However, many of these processes – however elegant – are time-consuming and expensive, especially when compared to how Nature achieves similar goals; the performance of enzymes - complex catalysts perfected through millions of years of evolution - offer ideals of selectivity and specificity that synthetic chemistry can only aspire to. We have established a multidisciplinary research programme inspired by Nature’s ability to selectively and specifically control the formation of complex materials, in order to develop new catalytic reactions and generate new materials. Our focus has been to exploit two strategies used by Nature to control the assembly of complex molecules: (i) the design and construction of materials that fold in the same way as natural biopolymers (such as peptides and proteins) through the specific placement of hydrogen bonds, and their application to study their application as catalysts. This also offers an opportunity to study specific and unusual hydrogen bonds that may influence how natural systems operate. (ii) the use of chiral counter-ions to control reactivity and selectivity. Using these principles have enabled us to invent new mild and highly selective transformations to make complex organic molecules. The ease with which we can make such three-dimensional scaffolds using these newly discovered methods may speed their application in fields such as medicine and materials.