For the first time, chemists have successfully produced amino acid-like molecules that all have the same ‘handedness’, from simple building blocks and in a single test tube. Could this be how life started. On earth? Or in space, as the Philae lander is currently exploring? René Steendam researcher in Astrochemistry at Radboud University, the Netherlands has published the findings in Nature Communications.
Some molecules are found in two chiral variants that, just like hands, are mirror images of one another. Nature, however, makes use of only one variant; for example, DNA is made of a right-handed helix and the most common sugar — glucose — is also right-handed. Why nature does this, and how it all started, remains an intriguing puzzle. After all, whenever chemists make the same molecules they obtain a mix of both variants.