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Chemistry Professor Honored with 2020 Ernest Guenther Award

April 1, 2020 | By Cynthia Dillon

Tadeusz “Ted” MolinskiProfessor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Tadeusz “Ted” Molinski.

Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Tadeusz “Ted” Molinski has been selected by the American Chemical Society (ACS) to receive the 2020 Ernest Guenther Award in the Chemistry of Natural Products. The award presentation, originally planned for the spring ACS National Meeting in Philadelphia last month, will take place in August 2020 at the ACS meeting in San Francisco.

At UC San Diego, Molinski is a professor of chemistry and biochemistry, a member of the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, and of the Center of Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography—together a world-recognized center of excellence in research on marine natural products chemistry. This is the first Ernest Guenther Award to an active UC San Diego academic.

As this year’s award winner, Molinski is recognized for his lifetime achievement with the ACS’s highest honor in natural products chemistry. The award recognizes his outstanding achievements in the structure elucidation and chemical synthesis of natural products. It also takes into consideration independence of thought and originality—evident throughout Molinski’s innovative chemistry research career. For this distinction, he will receive a medallion, an award certificate and a monetary prize of $6,000.

Molinski’s research program focuses on the chemistry of marine invertebrates. His work has resulted in the discovery of numerous new metabolites, many of which displayed unprecedented molecular scaffolds, new functional group arrays or potent biological properties. Among his memorable discoveries are compounds such as the phorboxazoles (mixed NRPS-PKS alkaloids), zwittermicin A (a diaminopolyol), oceanapiside (a “two-headed” sphingolipid) and the mollenynes (halogenated acetylenic amides).

According to Kirk Gustafson, senior scientist in the Molecular Targets Program and head of the Natural Products Chemistry Group at the National Cancer Institute, who wrote about the UC San Diego professor in a recent issue of the American Society of Pharmacognosy (ASP) newsletter, Molinski is well known in the natural products research community. His pioneering advances in the development and application of new chiroptical methods for defining the structure and absolute configuration of challenging compounds is notable. He also pushed the limits of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) sensitivity and experimental capabilities with his discovery and structural definition of complex new molecules that were conducted “on the nanomole scale.”

In his tribute to Molinski, Gustafson noted another important advancement in NMR that Molinski undertook. He developed experiments that allow detection of the 35Cl/37Cl isotope effect on chlorinated carbons for directly assigning sites of chlorination in a molecule. Molinski’s research group has also been very active in synthetic chemistry efforts. The team utilizes synthetic chemistry as a valuable tool in structure elucidation and have also successfully undertaken the total synthesis of diverse natural product structures including alkaloids, macrolides such as enigmazole A, peptides, and lipids. Through these efforts both the constitution and configuration of novel natural products were established, and new synthetic methodologies were developed which could be applied to other target molecules. Throughout his research endeavors, Molinski has demonstrated a broad interest in, and mastery of, diverse areas of natural products, spectroscopy and synthetic organic chemistry.

Molinski is the 71st recipient of the Ernest Guenther Award, first established in 1949. Past awardees include accomplished chemists and multiple Nobel Prize winners. For more information about the award and its criteria, please visit the ACS website.