Pest's pheromones made easy

The dream of a straightforward method for making complicated natural products is moving closer to reality thanks to a team of Dutch chemists.

Saturated hydrocarbon chains with stereocentres on every fifth carbon are common in pheromones and other natural products. These building blocks, known as isoprenoids, are a key target for chemists wanting to make and study naturally occurring compounds.

Ben Feringa, Adriaan Minnaard and their co-workers at the University of Groningen have developed a catalytic strategy to make all four diastereoisomers of this versatile building block. To demonstrate their new method they prepared two pheromones produced by a North American pest, the apple leafminer.

'With this method a range of interesting natural products comes within reach for the synthetic chemist,' comments Minnaard. 'This is important, because many of these compounds occur in nature only in minute amounts which precludes structure elucidation and biological studies.'

Caroline Evans