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PhD student finds new way to make oldest chemical compounds

"This research project cuts that process right down to one to two steps," research supervisor Christopher Bray said of the new compound production process.

By Brooks Hays
PhD student finds new way to make oldest chemical compounds
The new sulfur-based compounds could be used to make new drugs. Photo by stefanphotozemun/Shutterstock

LONDON, Oct. 27 (UPI) -- Sultines and sultones, first discovered and synthesized in the late 1800s, are two the oldest types of sulfur compounds. Today, they're commonly used in medicine and agriculture.

Now, there's a new simplified way to make them, thanks to the work of doctoral student and chemist Geoffrey Smith.

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Smith's PhD work at Queen Mary University of London involves the tweaking of 3-D molecular structures for drug manufacturing. As part of his research, Smith was building small molecular rings of carbon and hydrogen -- structures that could serve as the backbones of new drugs.

"My PhD has important implications as part of an emerging trend in medicinal chemistry for tailoring the 3-D structures of molecules to produce libraries of new and interesting products," Smith said in a press release.

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Over the course of the experimentation, Smith and his supervisor Christopher Bray realized they had been synthesizing entirely different sulfur compounds. At first, neither Bray nor Smith were able to identify their creations. But computational modeling identified the structures as new sultines and sultones.

Sultines are found in a variety foods, both naturally and added for flavor and aroma. Sultones are key to the designing of new drugs, and currently serve as the backbone of antiviral therapies for HIV, herpes and chicken pox. Smith's work will make it easier to make and find new applications for these novel yet ancient compounds.

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"It usually takes between five to seven steps to produce sultones and sultines," Bray explained. "This research project cuts that process right down to one to two steps, and it produces the compounds in almost 100 percent yield."

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The discovery is detailed in the journal Angewandte Chemie.

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