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A team of chemists led by Nuno Maulide at the University of Vienna has made a significant breakthrough in chemical synthesis by developing a new method for manipulating carbon-hydrogen bonds. This discovery sheds light on the molecular interactions of positively charged carbon atoms and opens up new synthetic pathways for potential applications in medicine. Their findings were recently published in the journal Science.

Living organisms, including humans, rely on molecules made up of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen for their complexity. These building blocks are essential for the creation of various substances, including medications. When chemists work on synthesizing new drugs, they manipulate molecules through chemical reactions to create compounds with unique properties and structures by breaking and forming bonds between atoms.

Traditional methods of chemical synthesis often involve manipulating weaker bonds instead of strong carbon-hydrogen (C-H) bonds due to the high energy required to break them. This limitation leads to additional synthetic steps, making the process costly and inefficient. Therefore, chemists are continuously searching for more sustainable and efficient synthetic methods to streamline drug discovery and development.

One revolutionary approach that has emerged is C-H activation, enabling the direct manipulation of strong C-H bonds. This breakthrough not only enhances synthetic processes’ efficiency but also reduces their environmental impact, providing more sustainable paths for drug discovery. A key challenge in C-H activation is achieving precise selectivity in targeting a specific C-H bond within a molecule containing numerous C-H bonds, known as the “selectivity problem.”

To address the selectivity problem, researchers led by Nuno Maulide at the University of Vienna have developed a new C-H activation reaction that selectively targets a specific C-H bond with remarkable precision. This breakthrough allows access to previously inaccessible synthetic pathways, enabling the synthesis of complex carbon-based molecules. By focusing on carbocations, molecules containing a positively charged carbon atom, the researchers have discovered a new reactivity phenomenon called “remote elimination,” resulting in the formation of new carbon-carbon single bonds.

The team demonstrated this new reactivity by synthesizing decalins, a class of cyclic carbon-based molecules found in many biologically active compounds. By producing decalins more efficiently, they hope to contribute to the development of new and more effective drugs in the future. This innovative research by Nuno Maulide and his team offers promising possibilities for advancing drug discovery and chemical synthesis.

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