Molecular Models of Annatto Seed Components

In January 2008 the focus of this column was on the plant pigments lycopene and beta-carotene (1). Our attention this month returns to two papers discussing the pigments in annatto seeds (Figure 1), including direct precursors to lycopene. The paper by Teixeira, Dur�n, and Guterres describes the extraction and encapsulation of annatto seed components (2). The McCullagh and Ramos paper describes the separation of the pigment bixin from these seeds by TLC and column chromatography (3). These molecules could form the basis of interesting exercises across the chemistry curriculum. In courses designed for non-majors, students could choose a molecule from the table and search the literature for both scientific and non-scientific sources. Are the claims made in the latter sources regarding the health benefits of these molecules consistent with the scientific data? That discussion could be expanded to the more general question of how one tests the validity of statements made in what are essentially advertisements. Are any of these precursor molecules to lycopene considered to have anticancer properties (4)? In introductory or general chemistry courses, students could explore the various bond lengths and bond angles in the molecules to see whether they are consistent with their expectations based on simple bonding models. In introductory, organic, or biochemistry classes, the thermodynamics of hydrogenation and dehydrogenation could be examined. This might make an interesting alternative to the oft-discussed Haber Process. What conditions would one propose for a dehydrogenation process? Why are dehydrogenation reactions important? What enzymes catalyze the various dehydrogenation steps from phytoene to lycopene? These molecules could also be used in a variety of computational exercises in introductory and physical chemistry courses. Hartree�Fock calculations on a molecule such as phytoene may prove time-consuming depending on the nature of the computing system available. A good place to begin would be to perform semi-empirical calculations on the various molecules. Do the optimized structures match experimental results or the results of larger calculations? Does the HOMO�LUMO gap correlate with the observed electronic absorption spectra? Which is more important in determining the difference in absorption between phytoene and phytofluene, the total number of double bonds or the number of bonds in the region of conjugation? Of course the aspect of these molecules that is most likely to capture student attention is their color, and they provide nice examples of the origin of color, the relationship between color observed and color absorbed, and, in upper level courses, the more detailed relationships of the energies of the ground and excited states.
Molecular Models of Annatto Seed Components   
(Interactive Simulation (1))