Editor's Summary

1 June 2006

Chemistry mirrors life

Chirality, the molecular version of right- and left-handedness, has intrigued chemists ever since Pasteur found mirror-image tartaric acid crystals. The synthesis of molecules in a single chiral form is usually achieved by using a chiral entity from the outset. But in some reactions the formation of a chiral product seems to be further amplified. Most current explanations implicate autocatalysis as the source of this asymmetry. An alternative mechanism is demonstrated this week. This new approach generates a strong bias towards one chiral form from a small initial imbalance, based on the equilibrium solid–liquid phase behaviour of amino acids. As this takes place in aqueous solution, the process might explain how a prebiotic world, with left- and right-handed molecules present in equal numbers, could turn into a living world where biomolecules favour one chiral form.

LetterThermodynamic control of asymmetric amplification in amino acid catalysis

Martin Klussmann, Hiroshi Iwamura, Suju P. Mathew, David H. Wells, Jr, Urvish Pandya, Alan Armstrong & Donna G. Blackmond