Cycloaddition is an essential tool in chemical synthesis. Instead of using light or heat as a driving force, marine sponges promote cycloaddition with a more versatile but poorly understood mechanism in producing pyrrole-imidazole alkaloids sceptrin, massadine, and ageliferin. Through de novo synthesis of sceptrin and massadine, we show that sponges may use single-electron oxidation as a central mechanism to promote three different types of cycloaddition. Additionally, we provide surprising evidence that, in contrast to previous reports, sceptrin, massadine, and ageliferin have mismatched chirality. Therefore, massadine cannot be an oxidative rearrangement product of sceptrin or ageliferin, as is commonly believed. Taken together, our results demonstrate unconventional chemical approaches to achieving cycloaddition reactions in synthesis and uncover enantiodivergence as a new biosynthetic paradigm for natural products.
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