Various aryl and alkyl substituted optically pure propargyl alcohols were obtained with excellent ee (up to >99%) and isolated yields (up to 87%) by deracemization using whole cells of Candida parapsilosis ATCC 7330. The whole cells show substrate specificity towards alkyl substituted propargyl alcohols and a switch in the enantioselectivity has been observed from 'R' to 'S' upon increasing the chain length. For the first time, enantiopure (R)-4-(3-hydroxybut-1-ynyl)benzonitrile, (R)-4-(biphenyl-4-yl)but-3-yn-2-ol, (S)-ethyl 3-hydroxy-5-phenylpent-4-ynoate and (S)-4-phenylbut-3-yne-1,2-diol were obtained using this strategy. Optically pure propargyl alcohol thus obtained was used as a chiral starting material in the synthesis of enantiomerically enriched poly-substituted pyrrolidines and a pyrrole derivative successfully demonstrating a chemoenzymatic route. This journal is © 2014 the Partner Organisations.