Catalyzing Solutions: Benzyne as a Doorway to Understanding

By KATIE THOMPSON

Since the mid-20th century, scientists have been baffled and amazed by a compound known as benzyne. For those unfamiliar with the compound, benzyne derives from a cyclic aromatic ring that encompasses a triple comb, making it look strikingly like a honey comb. Due to the structure of benzyne, the triple bond within the compound creates a bond strain/stress that makes the molecule very reactive and unstable. This instability allows for benzyne to be a useful tool for synthetic organic chemists. 

A fairly recent discovery, published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society by Dr. Sarpong’s research team at University of California Berkley (which includes Dr. Kisunzu of Colorado College’s Chemistry and Biochemistry department), provides insight into the total synthesis of Cossonidine. Cossonidine is a compound that belongs to a family of diterpenoid alkaloids, and can be easily isolated from a beautiful but deadly flower known as Monkshood. If Monkshood is ingested, the flower can affect the nervous, circulatory, and muscular systems due to the connections these biological conditions have to the sodium, calcium, and potassium voltage ion pumps. Because the Sarpong research team was able to suggest the total synthesis of Cossonidine, they allowed the scientific world to gain a closer understanding in treating patients with Alzheimer’s disease, chronic pain, and epilepsy.

In continuation of gaining a better understanding of benzyne’s nature, such as in biological and drug aspects, the Kisunzu lab at Colorado College is currently trying to see how benzynes behave with various dicarbonyl compounds. Eventually, the lab might be able to further help scientists through their knowledge on benzyne behavior in drugs and biological aspects.  

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