Chemists discover simple, thrifty method to synthesize amines

TSRI chemists have developed a simple, inexpensive method to synthesize amines.
TSRI chemists have developed a simple, inexpensive method to synthesize amines. | Courtesy of

A team of chemists from the Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) recently discovered a simple and cost-efficient tool for synthesizing “amines,” which are a specific class of organic compounds that are commonly used in drugs and similar modern products.

This discovery is especially useful as a method to synthesize complex amines that are valued in the pharmaceutical industry, but are difficult to synthesize with regular methods. This new method needs just two compounds, an olefin and a nitroarene (both of which are abundant), combined with an iron catalyst.

“This is interesting science because a transformation like this has never been seen before,” Phil Baran, the Darlene Shiley Chair in Chemistry at TSRI who led the new study, said. “Part of what’s unique about this scientific advance is that it’s also being immediately applied by industry — it’s just pretty darn useful. It’s as if we’re taking dirt, and then adding a bit of rust, and putting it all in a blender and ending up with gold — except that the amines we can make with this new method are often worth much more than their weight in gold.”

“Some of the compounds we made contain sensitive functional groups that can’t survive conventional amine synthesis reactions,” Jinghan Gui, a research associate in the Baran laboratory who was first author of the paper, said. “Nitroarenes and olefins are cheap feedstock chemicals that everybody already has on their lab shelf, yet when they are merged together in this unique way, they turn out to make compounds that would be extraordinarily difficult to make in any other way.”

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The Scripps Research Institute

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