German chemists recently highlighted a new method that they believe could help researchers develop critical synthetic compounds.
The study, published in the journal Angewandte Chemie, detailed a process called mechanism-based screening pioneered at the University of Münster.
Researchers deployed iridium-based molecules as photocatalysts, which are activated by light. A change in the light structure signaled whether or not the molecules reacted with their targets in the desired way.
The analysis identified two classes of new molecules — or substrates — that weren't previously known to work with the catalysts.
Most synthetic chemistry is involved with pharmaceuticals, and chemists currently seek useful new molecules by testing thousands of compounds against a genetic or cellular mechanism linked to a specific disease.
Although that reaction-based screening process can find molecules that react together, it doesn't provide information about the reaction itself.
The Münster researchers believe that their process could eventually work in concert with conventional testing and help produce new molecules or drugs quicker, cheaper and with less of an impact on the environment.
"Traditional screens ask the question: does the machine produce [the] product?" chemist Frank Glorius told Fortune. "With our screen, we are shining light inside the box of the machine."