New method for synthesizing non-canonical amino acids

A groundbreaking advancement in chemistry and enzymology has emerged from UC Santa Barbara, where researchers have introduced a novel method merging enzymes and small-molecule photochemistry. This ingenious technique, termed synergistic photobiocatalysis, holds tremendous potential for catalyzing new reactions and streamlining processes, especially in the creation of non-canonical amino acids with therapeutic significance.

The innovation revolves around a dual catalytic process: a photochemical reaction generates a short-lived intermediary molecule, which collaborates with an enzymatic intermediate to yield the desired amino acid product. What sets this approach apart is its ability to effectively harness and utilize short-lived radical species, often difficult to control, due to the interaction with the enzymatically formed intermediate.

Professor Yang Yang, a key figure in this breakthrough, highlights that the method not only resolves a crucial challenge in the field, namely developing novel catalytic reactions spanning both biology and chemistry, but also boasts stereoselectivity. This means it can select the preferred molecular “shape” of the resulting amino acid, a crucial factor in stereochemistry.

This game-changing technique significantly simplifies the synthesis of non-canonical amino acids, potentially reducing the process by three to five steps. For peptide therapies, a critical area of medical advancement, this innovation could prove revolutionary. The pharmaceutical and biotech industries are already showing interest in applying this technology to amino acid synthesis.

Moreover, the implications extend beyond amino acids. This method could redefine both bio- and synthetic catalysis, enabling researchers to effectively handle complex radicals, access previously inaccessible molecules, and uncover hitherto unknown reactions. In essence, this innovation opens a gateway to uncharted territories in the realms of chemistry and biology.

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