Evolution of Dynamic Combinatorial Chemistry

  • Cougnon F
  • Sanders J
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S ince its inception in the mid-1990s, dynamic combinatorial chemistry (DCC), the chemistry of complex systems under thermodynamic control, has proved valuable in identifying un-expected molecules with remarkable binding properties and in providing effective synthetic routes to complex species. Essen-tially, in this approach, one designs the experiment rather than the molecule. DCC has also provided us with insights into how some chemical systems respond to external stimuli. Using examples from the work of our laboratory and others, this Account shows how the concept of DCC, inspired by the evolution of living systems, has found an increasing range of applications in diverse areas and has evolved conceptually and experimentally. A dynamic combinatorial library (DCL) is a thermodynami-cally controlled mixture of interconverting species that can respond to various stimuli. The Cambridge version of dynamic combinatorial chemistry was initially inspired by the mammalian immune system and was conceived as a way to create and identify new unpredictable receptors. For example, an added template can select and stabilize a strongly binding member of the library which is then amplified at the expense of the unsuccessful library members, minimizing the free energy of the system. But researchers have exploited DCC in a variety of other ways: over the past two decades, this technique has contributed to the evolution of chemistry and to applications in the diverse fields of catalysis, fragrance release, and responsive materials. Among these applications, researchers have built intricate and well-defined architectures such as catenanes or hydrogen-bonded nanotubes, using the ability of complex chemical systems to reach a high level of organization. In addition, DCC has proved a powerful tool for the study of complex molecular networks and systems. The use of DCC is improving our understanding of chemical and biological systems. The study of folding or self-replicating macrocycles in DCLs has served as a model for appreciating how complex organisations such as life can emerge from a pool of simple chemicals. Today, DCC is no longer restricted to thermodynamic control, and new systems have recently appeared in which kinetic and thermodynamic control coexist. Expanding the realm of DCC to unexplored and promising new territories, these hybrid systems show that the concept of dynamic combinatorial chemistry continues to evolve. A Successful but Naive Idea Evolution has long been associated with the idea of a blind, random emergence of the best-adapted organism. However, in recent decades, many scientists have questioned whether evolution is truly random, and have shown it to be strongly constrained by the laws of physics and chemistry: in 1993, in his book The Origins of Order, 1 Kauffman used the perspec-tive of mathematics to show that complex disordered systems (including, among others, living organisms) display an in-herent property to self-organize and evolve in a way that was described as a " combinatorial optimisation process " .

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  • Fabien B L Cougnon

  • Jeremy K M Sanders

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