Research highlight

Single-molecule snapshot

Nature Chemistry

August 2, 2010

Microscopy with atomic resolution could be useful in the determining the structure of some unknown organic compounds, such as medicinally important natural products, according to a study online in Nature Chemistry this week. This method could avoid the lengthy and expensive process of trying to synthesize the compound and then compare its structure with that of the natural one, which is necessary in some cases.

Nature produces a vast array of organic compounds, many of which have potential pharmaceutical applications. A first and important step in their use, however, is the determination of their molecular structure. Leo Gross and co-workers used a scanning probe microscopy technique to obtain an atomic-resolution image of a single molecule of an unknown compound. When combined with other traditional characterization techniques, this method enabled the determination of the molecular structure of the compound. The approach should be suitable for many of the compounds for which accurate structure determination is currently the most difficult.

doi: 10.1038/nchem.765

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