NASA has developed a novel approach for producing sugars and sugar acids enriched with one of the two enantiomers of individual compounds. This approach can also be adapted for other compounds, such as amino acids. All objects, including chemical compounds, have mirror images, some of which cannot be superimposed. In the case of chemical compounds, these non-superimposable mirror images are called enantiomers and are widely used in biological processes. NASA’s method produces high enantiomer excesses from simple and relatively inexpensive precursors (formaldehyde and simple salts) and hardware components without the need and expense of using (at some stage) biological sources. Unlike the commercial production of most rare enantiomers, this innovation employs conditions that are extremely common, non-biological, and relatively inexpensive to set up.
Chemical compounds are called chiral if their mirror images (enantiomers) cannot be superimposed on each other, similar to a left and right hand. Some important biological compounds, such as amino acids in proteins and sugars in RNA and DNA, are found exclusively as only one of the two possible enantiomers. These critical biological polymers cannot work if both enantiomers are present. NASA’s innovation creates excesses of one enantiomer or the other during synthesis of compounds from simple and inexpensive originators. The excesses can range up to more than 7 to 1. These excesses were measured with a common gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer, but can also be measured with a polarimeter. The excesses are permanent, and the products can be removed and isolated for any desired research or commercial purpose.
Employing this new method, a commercially purchased neodymium magnet was used to obtain the magnetic strength of 0.3T. However, the results included some large excesses, demonstrating that a lower magnetic strength can be used. This abiotic synthesis should make the cost of other organic enantiomers cheaper in the majority of cases and substantially less in others, resulting in a significant savings in the production of single enantiomers for business and research.
Potential applications include the pharmaceutical industry, dietary and nutritional supplements, nutraceuticals and biotech, chemical engineering, inorganic and organic chemicals, and industrial gas.