Retrosynthetic analysis is a technique for solving problems in the planning of organic syntheses. This is achieved by transforming a target molecule into simpler precursor structures without assumptions regarding starting materials. Each precursor material is examined using the same method. This procedure is repeated until simple or commercially available structures are reached. E.J. Corey formalized this concept in his book The Logic of Chemical Synthesis.
The power of retrosynthetic analysis becomes evident in the design of a synthesis. The goal of retrosynthetic analysis is structural simplification. Often, a synthesis will have more than one possible synthetic route. Retrosynthesis is well suited for discovering different synthetic routes and comparing them in a logical and straightfoward fashion. A database may be consulted at each stage of the analysis, to determine whether a component already exists in the literature. In that case, no further exploration of that compound would be required.
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