Natural Product Synthesis: One Step Closer to Entering Your Medicine Cabinet

Molecules isolated from natural sources have a wide range of biological effects: caffeine in coffee gives you an energy boost, morphine from poppy seeds alleviates pain, and muscarine in fly agarics is a dangerous poison. In order to study and apply such natural products as medicine, we have to synthesize them in the laboratory.

In his organic chemistry PhD thesis Juha Siitonen from Department of Chemnistry at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland has focused on syntheses of natural products isolated from Stemona- and Cephalotaxus-plants. Stemona derived natural products have a wide variety of applications, ranging all the way from antitussive effects to insecticidal properties. Cephalotaxus natural products, on the other hand, have proven effective against cancer.

"Half of world's drugs are either natural products or take their inspiration from natural products. For example, willow tree bark contains salicylic acid which is a precursor to aspirin", Siitonen points out.

Serves pharmaceutical and agrochemical industries
The PhD thesis presents synthetic pathways to three different Stemona natural products, as well as a significantly shorter method to access the core structure of Cephalotaxus natural products. Several new synthetic methods had to be developed to accomplish these goals. In the future, the developed methods can find use in synthesis of new drugs, agrochemicals as well as new materials.

"Molecular structures of natural products are intriguing. The complex structures can be seen as synthetic challenges that very quickly reveal the shortcomings and limitations of our current methods for chemical synthesis", Siitonen explains.

MSc Juha Siitonen defends his doctoral dissertation in organic chemistry "Synthetic Studies on 1-Azabicyclo[5.3.0]decane Alkaloids" on Thursday 4th of October 2018 at noon 12:00 in lecture hall YlistöKem4. Opponent professor Annette Bayer (University of Tromsø - The Arctic University of Norway) and custos professor Petri Pihko (University of Jyväskylä). The doctoral dissertation is held in English.