Journal of agricultural and food chemistry

Isotopic criteria in the characterization of aromatic molecules. 2. Influence of the chemical elaboration process.

PMID 17177549


Most valued natural aromatic molecules can be substituted by their low-cost chemical counterparts. Isotopic methods, which offer the most powerful tool to infer the origin of a molecule, are applied to the characterization of a large number of chemical aromatic species. Isotopic affiliation between precursors and products is investigated in several types of reactions: oxidation of benzyl chloride and benzyl alcohol and hydrolysis of benzylidene chloride and cinnamaldehyde. The isotopic parameters strongly depend not only on the type of process but, for a given process, on the experimental conditions of the reaction. Kinetic isotope effects occurring in several formylation reactions are estimated. It is shown that, in the drastic experimental conditions of many industrial processes, the benzenic hydrogen atoms may be affected by exchange phenomena. Consequently, the site-specific isotopic parameters of the ring fragment of chemical species are usually much less stable than those of the corresponding natural molecules biosynthesized in mild environments. The isotope ratios of substituents such as CH3, CH2Cl, and CHO are more resistant to exchange and provide useful criteria for characterizing both the raw materials and the process. It is shown in particular that radical hydrogen abstraction in toluene to produce benzyl chloride induces relatively moderate fractionation effects. In contrast, oxidation reactions frequently produce strong fractionation effects. In particular, industrial direct oxidation of toluene into benzaldehyde is characterized by deuterium enrichments at the formyl site, which may exceed 900 ppm. Taking into account the large magnitude and high variability of many fractionation effects occurring in chemical reactions, the isotopic fingerprint may provide unambiguous criteria, not only for excluding a natural origin and characterizing the type of process, but also for differentiating molecules synthesized by a given process in different industrial contexts. The isotopic fingerprint may therefore be used by manufacturers as a powerful label for characterizing their production batches.

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