Many imagined one day growing up and doing something significant in science as a kid. Were you also one of those kids who would stand in front of the mirror and imagine yourself holding the Nobel Prize? If yes, you will readily understand why talking about this year’s Nobel laureates in Chemistry is so important. Every Nobel laureate has changed the world somehow, but the three people talked about here have made such an impact that molecular chemistry may change forever.
Carolyn Bertozzi, Morten Meldal, and K. Barry Sharpless have been awarded the Nobel Prize in 2022 for Chemistry for their discovery of a Click Chemistry mechanism and Bi-orthogonal chemistry. The discovery of click chemistry has led to a revolution in the world of chemists and even biologists.
On the other hand, Bi-orthogonal chemistry can change how learning about organisms occurs in the world. These three people have laid the foundation for a very new route to be taken by chemistry studied globally. Now, let’s get into understanding how their contributions are so significant.
What Is Click Chemistry?
As the name suggests, click chemistry has the same function. In the year 2002-03, K. Barry Sharpless was the one who first proposed the application of click chemistry as a theory. You must be wondering why he did not get the Nobel back then. The simple answer is you can not just propose breaking the boundaries of science; you have actually to break them to win the Nobel Prize.
All that Sharpless suggested at that time was theoretical. It was not until this year that he and Meldal collaborated and proved the theory by chemically linking two molecular building blocks. Click chemistry is the branch of functional science in which biocompatible molecules snap and join together with specific biomolecules. Now, with the discovery from the Nobel laureates, this can be done with various other molecules as well. The molecular building blocks can be clubbed together in buckles to form complex molecular structures.
The Click Reaction
Source / The famous click reaction
The first successful reaction they performed is widely known as the copper-catalyzed azide-alkyne cycloaddition. Azide and alkyne are not highly reactive when mixed. Sharpless and Meldal added a small amount of copper to the mixture. This led to the reaction being highly spontaneous and to the formation of a complex compound called triazole.
Today, using specific amounts of azide and alkyne along with copper can result in larger molecules with desired structures. The head of the Nobel committee mentioned this one reaction in his speech this year, which proves how significant this one step was for the evolution of chemistry. The application of click chemistry will bring the dawn of a new age, that much is for certain.
Source / Bi-orthogonal chemistry
The term has a confusing touch but is very simple to understand. It is a branch of chemistry that can help study a living organism without harming it. Humans can use selective molecular building blocks that attach to buckles in the body to help analyze the living organism. It can be called click chemistry for biologists. It was in 2003 that Bertozzi proposed that click chemistry can be used to study living organisms without interfering in their life processes. It meant no more studying the corpse of an organism.
Biologists can now use specific molecules that would get attached to other specific molecules in the body of the organism. It would help understand the most complex processes occurring in the organism’s body. Bertozzi used the click reaction in the late 90s and early 2000s to study glycans in fishes and their movements across cell membranes. With this approach, it was nearly possible for her to study what she intended to. Today, using the same technique, even the glycans found in tumour cells can be tracked easily.
Applications of Click Chemistry and Bi-orthogonal chemistry
One of the biggest advantages of click and bi-orthogonal chemistry is that the reactions involved do not have any byproducts. There are zero chances of any toxic outcome from the use of this functional form of chemistry. Currently, click chemistry is used in drug delivery at the right place in the body, DNA sequencing, and even synthesis of new and ‘smart’ materials. Apart from these, there is a wide world of possibilities for click chemistry.
Similarly, for bi-orthogonal chemistry, the possibilities are endless.
The applications of this concept in the field of biology are massive. It can be used to understand how the body responds to various drugs. Imaging living cells without disturbing them is a possibility now. There are even talks that creating engineered antibodies is also possible with the help of bi-orthogonal chemistry. Studying vital processes inside a body without disturbing any functions is very much possible with the help of bi-orthogonal chemistry.
Nobel Laureates in Chemistry for 2022
Talking enough about the concepts that have helped three people win the Nobel Prize, now it is time to talk about these magnificent people themselves. The only purpose of giving out these Nobel Prizes is to acknowledge the people changing the world with their minds. Meldal and Sharpless spent over twenty years finally proving the application of click chemistry. Similarly, Bertozzi has too spent a long time on their research. Carolyn Bertozzi, Morten Meldal, and K. Barry Sharpless are the stars this year in front of the whole chemistry world. They are shining bright by providing the world with a way to open up many new opportunities and possibilities.
It is rightfully said, “Break the laws of governments, and you will end up in jail. Break the laws of science, and you will go to Sweden to collect the most prestigious award.” These people proved that molecular building blocks don’t have to stay inert or completely react with other molecules. They can even snap together and form a new complex for our use. So, Carolyn Bertozzi, Morten Meldal, and K. Barry Sharpless are the names the world will never forget, as they have helped revolutionise the field of functional chemistry. The chemistry nobel prize in 2022 is given to very deserving candidates indeed.
Now that you understand what the whole fuss is about, you must also be left in awe. Reading about click chemistry mechanism and bi-orthogonal chemistry might have made you wonder, hasn’t this always been the case? That the molecular building blocks can snap together. But this is where people like us lacked observation, and the current Nobel laureates did not just think about it but proved themselves right.
Click chemistry and bi-orthogonal chemistry are now the branches of functional chemistry that will help humanity in multiple ways. For chemists, it will be the synthesis of the new element; for biologists, it will be learning the complex processes inside the body. But in every way, these discoveries will now become a part of human lives. Everyone should be thankful to Carolyn Bertozzi, Morten Meldal, and K. Barry Sharpless for their countless sleepless nights and years of hard work to give this world such an important aspect of chemistry.