What’s black and white and read all over?

Hi everybody,

As Stuart mentioned, a bunch of us NPG chemists got together recently to chat about all things related to Nature and chemistry. While we were gathered together, our thoughts naturally turned to the blog, and to brainstorming about different features that could make the Sceptical Chymist more fun and interesting for everyone (Is it possible, you say? Hard to believe, but it’s true…). This entry is thus the first to venture forward into new territory. This feature is basically the same as the ‘Journal Club’ included as part of Nature‘s Research Highlights, except that we get to pick the scientist, so that’s more fun for us. And, more to the point, the online posting means that we can all chime in about the paper, or at least more quickly check it out ourselves through the magic of links. We’ll be contacting more of you in the weeks and months to come, but in the meantime, please enjoy this highlight, courtesy of an excellent scientist and all-around nice guy:

Chemically engineered extracts as an alternative source of bioactive natural product-like compounds

by Lopez et al., PNAS 2007, 104, 441-444

Everybody agrees that structurally diverse compound collections are necessary as sources for bioactive molecules. To find new drugs, industrial research seems to particularly enjoy mining synthetic collections using elaborate cheminformatic tools to go and buy the best candidates for testing, a management optimized strategy to shoot for the average while missing the innovative. On the other hand many synthetic chemists favor the view that natural products are the best innovative source of bioactives. Is there anything else in sight, for a change? The report by Lopez et al. on “chemical engineering” of natural product extracts refreshes bioactive discovery in a particularly simple and elegant manner. These authors report an experiment in which a crude natural product extract is reacted with hydrazine to effect chemoselective derivatization of carbonyl groups, which are abundant in natural products, to hydrazones and nitrogen containing heterocycles. In this manner, they create a new brew of compounds which, in contrast to natural products, contains nitrogen rich functional groups that are particularly favorable for bioactivity, thus providing for what Nature had obviously forgotten. This new witch’s brew is then tested directly for biactivity to guide isolation of active compounds. In their example, the authors found an antifungal aromatic compound containing a pyrazole group apparently derived from the reaction of hydrazine with a simple flavone. Although the paper is only sketchy about the details, it is a great experiment, which, to my knowledge, is new. With such a simple setup, there is little doubt that many will follow in this path to discover new chemical wonders.

Jean-Louis Reymond

University of Bern

Bern, Switzerland

Catherine (associate editor, Nature Chemical Biology)