Recent developments from chemists hailing out of the University of Basel have come up with a novel way to synthesize terpenes in a way that minimizes Mother Nature herself. These findings were recently published in the journal Nature Catalysis.

What Are Terpenes

Terpenes are natural organic compounds found in plants. Terpenes are representative of the largest class of chemical compounds found naturally, and include both steroids and essential oils, as well as medically useful substances such as chemotherapy medications and antimalarial drugs.

Generally, terpenes are aromatic and known for their potent smells. Most plants produce these molecules to some degree. For example, oranges produce a recognizable “orange” scent, while hemp produces a pungent, yet also recognizable cannabis aroma.

The Challenge

Up until now, terpenes have been very difficult to synthesize in the lab. The processes formerly utilized to attempt synthesis have required numerous steps resulting in low yields, thus making mass production a both costly and inefficient proposition.

However, recent developments from chemists hailing from the University of Basel have come up with a way to synthesize these hard to create products in a way that minimizes Mother Nature herself. These findings were recently published in the journal Nature Catalysis.

Terpenes Application

Terpenes are used in a broad range of applications, including essential oils, pharmaceutical drugs and treatments, the food and beverage industry, and even as oils for vaping devices such as the newly released vaporizers from V4 Twenty. Recently even the brewing companies are getting in on terpenes, with Colorado’s New Belgium Brewing recently creating a terpene infused beer called the “Hemperor HPA” that includes hemp terpenes for both flavor and aroma.

But until now, chemists have struggled to find ways to formulate these terpenes in a way that made economic sense.

Taking Notes from Mother Nature

Chemists from the University of Basel have come up with a unique and innovative method to synthesize these natural products in a way that imitates nature itself.

Headed by Professor Konrad Tiefenbacher from the University of Basel’s Department of Chemistry, the team begins with starting material, enclosed by a molecular capsule. The environment of this capsule allows for formulation of the terpene, and along with control elements incorporated into the process, prevent unwanted side effects.

Proven Use and Application

In order to prove its potential in application, the team worked on synthesizing the terpene isolongifolene (a product found in nature). Utilizing their newly adapted methodology, the team worked to formulate terpene compounds shaped like a ring and catalyzed by the molecular capsule as the main step.

The result, when compared to traditional synthesis methodologies currently employed, resulted in considerably fewer steps necessary. Just as impressive, the new method resulted in a significant yield of terpene.

These terpenes, like those in nature can be utilized in food and beverages such as the aforementioned infused beer, pharmaceutical medications, and even vaping devices such as those developed by V4 Twenty that allow for vaping terpenes specifically.

What’s Next?

According to Professor Konrad Tiefenbacher, “Our next goal is to use capsules as an artificial enzyme in the creation of even more complex terpenes. In order to do so, we must learn to better control the spatial arrangement of the precursor within the capsule, either by modifying the existing system or by developing new catalysts.”

While more testing is necessary, this newfound ability to synthesize terpenes may lead to commercial, medical or pharmaceutical production of terpene compounds that may otherwise not be readily available.

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