Sculpting horizons in organic chemistry

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Science  22 Feb 1985:
Vol. 227, Issue 4689, pp. 908-916
DOI: 10.1126/science.3969569


Organic chemistry as a discipline derives from and impacts on the biological and abiological world in which we live. Its challenges lie in the areas of structure, reactivity, techniques, and concepts. Powerful structural tools reveal structures from biology that range from control of insect development and behavior to whole new metabolic pathways in humans. Unnatural products create beautiful new molecular shapes whose properties cannot be predicted as well as catalysts that function with enzyme-like control. From structure flows reactivity. Exploration of known reactions points to new directions, and development of new reactions offers the opportunity of streamlined synthetic design. Emerging new techniques offer new dimensions for performing and studying reactions as well as the hope for developing new ones. Merging disparate facts into unified concepts increases predictive capabilities. The extraordinary difficulty of finding the resultant of many small effects may obscure the presence of general theories, creates the art in the practice of the science, and challenges the practitioner. From these general themes derives the quest for selectivity--chemo-, regio-, diastereo-, and enantio-. An examination of the fundamental underpinnings of the applications of organic chemistry reveals that, while impressive strides have been made, the science is best described as being between infancy and childhood. The cross-fertilization between organic chemistry and molecular biology vividly illustrates a merging of chemistry and biology.