The Role of Chemistry in History

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Synthetic Production

April 29th, 2008 · 1 Comment ·

Introduction | History | How It Works

Uses | Typhoid Fever | Side Effects

Synthetic Production | U.S. and the West



Chloramphenicol was the first antibiotic to be produced synthetically in large quantities, making it cheaper than other antibiotics and widely available. Its affordability made it a lucrative asset for many third world countries affected by typhoid.

In chemistry, the synthesis of a molecule is the formation of a complex substance from simpler compounds. Due to its simple structure, chloramphenicol is simple to synthesize.

In his trials in synthesizing chloramphenicol, Gottlieb used a variety of compounds and amino acids, including:

  • p-nitrophenylserinol
  • dichloroacetic acid
  • leucine
  • isoleucine
  • methionine
  • tryptophan
  • glutamic acid
  • norvaline
  • threonine
  • phenylalanine

Upon further experimentation, Gottlieb discovered that p-nitrophenylserinol was the best in stimulating antibiotic production.

In this image, the structure of chloramphenicol (a) is compared to the structure of p-nitrophenylserinol (b)


This video clip is a news piece discussing the reasons why Nigerian health officials have decided against the use of chloramphenicol to treat typhoid fever.

Tags: Chloramphenicol