Crystalline Sponge Technology


A breakthrough in molecular structure analysis

Conventional X-ray crystallography is the method of choice to determine molecular structures completely and with absolute certainty. However, it typically requires at least a few milligrams of analyte to produce a perfect crystal, which can sometimes be very difficult and labor-intensive. Crystalline sponge technology, invented by Professor Makoto Fujita at Tokyo University, makes X-ray crystallography applicable to much smaller amounts of analyte, which need not be crystallized directly.  

Easier, faster, cheaper

The innovative crystalline sponge technology determines absolute chemical structures rapidly and with samples at sub-microgram scale and works without lengthy crystallization of the analyte. This makes it especially useful whenever traditional X-ray crystallography is difficult to apply, such as when compounds are volatile or cannot be crystallized.

The acceleration of the analysis process is achieved by using an ‘instant crystal’, which serves as a substrate - a pre-crystallized matrix - for the sample. The molecules to be analyzed can be applied to this matrix in extremely low amounts. The result: determining the absolute chemical structure of natural substances or impurities becomes much easier and faster.

Crystalline sponge technology is the focus of an innovation project at our Innovation Center. Already being used as a lab service within our company, it is currently being developed further so that it can easily be used by chemical and life science laboratories around the world. They will be able to harness it to explore the chemical structure of pharmaceuticals, fine chemicals or natural compounds. By aiming to provide customers with turn-key solutions, we closely collaborate with our partner Rigaku, a key player in scientific analytical instrumentation. Learn more about our joint development agreement here.

How the crystalline sponge technology works

Typical Use Cases

Crystalline sponge technology could be used to accelerate and lower the cost of absolute chemical structure analysis in a wide range of scientific endeavors. Three practical examples are summarized below.

 

  • A drug metabolite is a byproduct of the body breaking down, or “metabolizing,” a drug into a different substance. Metabolites can potentially be toxic and may cause adverse effects. When developing a new drug, these metabolites must be explored thoroughly before a drug is tested on patients.
  • The crystalline sponge technology enables the complete analysis of metabolites with much less substance requirement than previously possible. As a result, dangerous metabolites can be identified earlier in the drug development process, saving significant amounts of time and money in the analysis process.
  • This minimizes risk by enabling researchers to adjust project portfolio according to early findings.

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  • Liquid crystal displays contain several organic compounds in a mixture that varies depending on the type of display and its required performance levels.
  • However, liquid crystal molecules can exist in different isomers, and these can be difficult to distinguish by conventional methods of chemical structure determination, such as Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR).
  • Using crystalline sponge technology enables scientists to prove the chemical structure of novel compounds used in liquid crystal mixtures beyond doubt.
  • This can be achieved quickly and cost-effectively, even using small quantities of compounds that are hard to crystallize or are liquid at room temperature.

  • Humans sense odors at an extremely low concentration. But even if two substances causing an odor have an identical composition formula, a different 3D structure – or just a mirror image of a flavor molecule – can produce very different smells. That’s why molecular structure is so important when creating fragrances.
  • The precise 3D molecular structure of fragrances cannot be determined using many traditional analysis techniques: The use of X-ray crystallography is often hindered by the volatility of the compounds and the difficulty of growing them into crystals.
  • Crystalline sponge technology allows the chemical structure of odors to be determined quickly and easily, using just nanograms of material.

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