©2017 BY PETER KNIPE

We are an organic chemistry research group, interested in using synthesis as a tool to investigate and solve problems. Central to this research is the concept of molecular recognition; by understanding and controlling the interactions between molecules we can design catalysts, sensors and therapeutics in a targeted manner.

Foldamers and Functional Oligomers

Selective, catalytic synthesis is vitally import to society, reducing the waste and energy requirements for the production of complex molecules and intermediates. One strategy for asymmetric catalysis is to exploit ion-pairing interactions between a charged, prochiral reaction intermediate and a homochiral catalyst ion bearing a complementary charge. The catalyst  directs facial selectivity in the subsequent reaction, leading to enantioselectivity in the process. However, despite decades of research in this area, the range of available catalysts is limited.

In the Knipe lab we are interested in developing new chiral scaffolds that will direct asymmetry in such processes, and in discovering new catalytic reactions that are amenable to this strategic approach. We are also interested in developing multifunctional catalysts to access new modes of reactivity and levels of selectivity.

Catalysts for Enantioselective Synthesis

Nature achieves its exquisite levels of selectivity and efficiency through a modular approach to synthesis: with just a few key building blocks (amino acids, nucleic acids and carbohydrates) it achieves a range of function that spans all of biology. In the context of proteins, this reactivity is made possible by the flexibility of these oligomers to adopt an almost infinite number of three-dimensional structures. In combination with evolutionary pressure and a timescale of aeons this leads to high levels of activity, despite the relatively limited 'alphabet' of catalytically-active proteinogenic amino acids.

Nature achieves its exquisite levels of selectivity and efficiency through a modular approach to synthesis: with just a few key building blocks (amino acids, nucleic acids and carbohydrates) it achieves a range of function that spans all of biology. In the context of proteins, this reactivity is made possible by the flexibility of these oligomers to adopt an almost infinite number of three-dimensional structures. In combination with evolutionary pressure and a timescale of aeons this leads to high levels of activity, despite the relatively limited 'alphabet' of catalytically-active proteinogenic amino acids.

In the Knipe group we seek to emulate Nature's strategy for functional molecules by developing un-natural folded, oligomeric molecules ('foldamers') that are imbued with a range of functions including: (i) catalytic activity; (ii) stimulus response/sensory activity and (iii) complementarity to protein surfaces for chemical biology applications.