Editorial Article

Organic synthesis and chemical analysis

Leiv K. Sydnes2, Dr. Miguel Yus1,*
1Department of Chemistry, University of Alicante- Spain
2Department of Chemistry, University of Bergen, Norway
*Corresponding author:

Miguel Yus, Department of Chemistry, University of Alicante- Spain, Email: yus@ua.es

Chemical analysis is very important in many sciences, including biology. On reflection, we also realize that it constitutes a cornerstone in our lives and societies as well. The presence of even small amounts of a chemical compound can turn out to be the difference between life and death if you are on medication, between guilt and innocence if you are accused of a crime, between cheating and a clean sheet if you are an athlete waiting for the results of a doping test, and between an open and a closed water supply. It is therefore very important in science and society that chemical analyses are consistently performed with the rigor and accuracy that give results of high quality in a reproducible fashion.

Many factors contribute to this quality. The bottom line is of course the skills of the professionals performing the analyses because even the best method can be screwed up by incompetent practitioners. However, when the method to apply in a specific case is being selected, the best alternative can often not be picked because standards of the compound(s) under investigation are lacking. Oftentimes, such materials are simply not available, and the best results one can hope for being qualitative and therefore indicative only. Such results may of course be sufficient in some cases, but the quality of many scientific papers could have improved a lot and made much more impact if quantitative results with a proper scope had been presented.

A pertinent question therefore arises: Why have so many scientists in many cases settled qualitative results only? We think one reason is obvious: Cooperation between analytical chemists and synthetic organic chemists has been missing with the consequence that necessary reference materials have not been available. Of course, if the problem under investigation is mature, for instance search for the presence of PCB congeners and their metabolites in biota from a natural habitat, standards are available in abundance. But for chemicals recently made and about to be applied and become a commodity and therefore a potential environmental problem, the situation is different, and this requires indeed a change in attitude among chemists if problems related to these chemical’s presence in and impact on Nature are going to be properly investigated.

An example illustrates our point. In the 1970s, synthetic musks started to be added as fragrances to detergents to make the products more attractive to the customers. Among the additives used in large quantities was Galaxolide, which was regarded as so stable that the concentration of this compound and its metabolites in the environment was adequately determined by analyzing appropriate samples from the environment with respect to Galaxolide only. This simple approach was therefore adopted as the standard, and this musk compound was indeed detected [1]. But in 1999, after having synthesized Galaxolidone, the most obvious metabolite from Galaxolide, and using that sample as a standard, Franke et al. [2] discovered that fish caught at certain locations contained not only Galaxolide, but also comparable amounts of Galaxolidone. Thus, the fish suddenly appeared to be twice as contaminated as the old method would indicate!

Since then many other analyses of natural and anthropogenic chemicals in biota and other environmental compartments have been extended to include metabolites of these chemicals as well [3]. But this development has been often the result of tedious work, which was based on real samples, included separation, purification and structure elucidation, and gave small quantities of compounds that appeared to be among those expected to be formed by oxidation of the mother compounds. A much better approach would have been to engage synthetic chemists to study the oxidation of the relevant compounds under a variety of conditions and make pure samples of the transformation products, which could then be used to search for metabolites of the mother compound(s) in the samples under investigation. That would enable the analytical chemists to use much more sensitive techniques and study important aspects such as the impact of conjugation.

To make such a development viable, closer contacts must develop between analytical chemists and the organic-synthesis community. That is indeed worthwhile to work for, because in this way studies of the fate of all sorts of chemicals in biota and other environmental compartments can be carried out much effectively and with a much wider perspective.

This will not only be beneficial for scientists in many disciplines; it will also make it possible to manage the use of chemicals in industry and society sounder and prevent negative environmental impact of chemicals in the future.

[1] See for instance T. Yamagishi, T. Myazaki, S. Horii and S. Kaneko, Bull. Environ. Contam. Toxicol. 1981, 26, 656-662.
[2] S. Franke, C. Meyer, N. Heinzel, R. Gatermann, H. Hühnerfuss, G. Rimkus, W.A. König, and W. Francke, Chirality 1999, 11, 795-801.
[3] For an analogous investigation of Tonalide, see S. Valdersnes, R. Kallenborn, and L. K. Sydnes, Intern. J. Environ. Anal. Chem. 2006, 86, 461-471.

Published: 27 March 2017

Reviewed By : Dr. Josep Esteve-Romero,


© 2017. Sydnes et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.