The origin of life is still a mystery with many unsolved puzzles. How were molecules created? How did they assemble into large structures? Among the conundrums, the "homochirality" phenomenon upon which amino acids and sugars form is particularly fascinating.
Liu explains that all life molecules are paired as left-handed and right-handed structures. In scientific terms, the phenomenon is called chirality. Nature's selection of only right-handed sugars and left-handed amino acids upon which to build life might be much simpler than we expected before.
Liu found that any molecules, if large enough (several nanometers) and with an electrical charge, will seek their own type with which to form large assemblies. This "self-recognition" of left-handed and right-handed molecule pairs is featured in the March 10, 2015 issue of Nature Communications.
While an understanding of how homochirality occurred at the onset of life remains a mystery, this new finding emphasizes that Mother Nature's inner workings may not be as complex as we think.
Funded by the National Science Foundation, this research was led by The University of Akron Department of Polymer Science, with collaborators from Northeast Normal University (China), Emory University, Argonne National Laboratory and Tsinghua University.
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