Well, the Balskus lab at Harvard aims to change that perception. Their lab slogan? "Microbes are Nature's synthetic chemists." As reported in Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. yesterday, their lab has identified a biocompatible palladium catalyst that uses the hydrogen gas produced by E. coli to drive hydrogenation of a variety of electron-poor alkenes and alkynes:
|Source: Balskus Lab | Angew. Chem. Int. Ed., 2014|
This reaction takes place in aqueous culture, in the presence of oppressive concentrations of nitrogen and glucose, yet still produces decent yields (63-95%) of reduced products. One could argue with somewhat high catalyst loading (8%) and low reaction concentration, but as a proof-of-concept it's pretty cool. Bacteria produce hundreds of interesting volatile metabolites - among them sulfur dioxide, indole, and isoprene - and it'll be neat to see if more of these byproducts can be co-opted for synthetic chemistry.
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