Improved conditions for the production and characterization of 1-arylpropane-1, 2-diols and related compounds were developed. Experimental conditions providing highly enhanced activity of pyruvate decarboxylase in bakers' yeast in the presence of pyruvate, thiamine pyrophosphate, and magnesium(II)salt were applied to the preparation of (R)-1-hydroxy-1-phenyl-2-propanone from benzaldehyde. Subsequent reduction with bakers' yeast efficiently afforded 1-phenyl-1, 2-propanediol (35%). The composition of its stereoisomers was precisely determined, and the major (1R, 2S)-isomer (89% of the total mixture) could be isolated by recrystallizing the corresponding benzoate. The analytical method for identifying the stereoisomeric composition was also effective for the determination of 5-phenyl-4-pentene-2, 3-diol, the biotransformation product from cinnamaldehyde, the vinylogous substrate of benzaldehyde. Furthermore, the structural characterization of 1-(2-furyl)propane-1, 2-diol, which was obtained from furfural (28%) by the action of brewers' yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae (carlsbergensis), is described. The major (1S, 2S)-isomer could be isolated by recrystallizing the crude product.
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