1Department of Earth Science and Engineering, South Kensington Campus, Imperial College London, SW7 2AZ. 2School of Chemical, Environmental and Mining Engineering, University of Nottingham, University Park, Nottingham, NG7 2RD, U.K.
Abstract: Studies of biological molecules such as fatty acids and the steroid hormones have the potential to benefit enormously from stable carbon isotope ratio measurements of individual molecules. In their natural form, however, the body’s molecules interact too readily with laboratory equipment designed to separate them for accurate measurements to be made.
Some methods overcome this problem by adding carbon to the target molecule, but this can irreversibly overprint the carbon source ‘signal’. Hydropyrolysis is a newly-applied catalytic technique that delicately strips molecules of their functional groups but retains their carbon skeletons and stereochemistries intact, allowing precise determination of the carbon source. By solving analytical problems, the new technique is increasing the ability of scientists to pinpoint molecular indicators of disease, elucidate metabolic pathways and recognise administered substances in forensic investigations.
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