Origin of Chirality in the Molecules of Life

Elements of molecular chirality illustrated through the two mirror-image enantiomers
of glyceraldehyde.

Molecular chirality is inherent to biology and cellular chemistry. In this report, the origin of enantiomeric selectivity is analyzed from the viewpoint of the "RNA World" model, based on the autocatalytic self-replication of glyceraldehyde as a precursor for simple sugars, and in particular ribose, as promoted by the formose reaction.

Autocatalytic coupling of formaldehyde and glycolaldehyde produces glyceraldehyde, which contains a chiral carbon center that is carried through in formation of the ribose ring. The parity non-conserving weak interaction is the only inherently handed property in nature and is herein shown to be sufficient to differentiate between two enantiomeric forms in an autocatalytic reaction performed over geologically relevant time scales, but only in the presence of a catalytic metal ion such as divalent calcium or higher Z alkaline earth elements. This work details calculations of the magnitude of the effect, the impact of various geologically-available metal ions, and the influence on evolution and dominance of chirality in the molecules of life.

J. A. Cowan, R. J. Furnstahl

Comments: 18 pages, 1 figures; supplementary material included with 9 pages, 4 figures
Subjects: Chemical Physics (physics.chem-ph); Astrophysics of Galaxies (astro-ph.GA); Biological Physics (physics.bio-ph)
Cite as: arXiv:2110.12232 [physics.chem-ph] (or arXiv:2110.12232v1 [physics.chem-ph] for this version)
Submission history
From: Richard J. Furnstahl
[v1] Sat, 23 Oct 2021 14:38:35 UTC (489 KB)
Astrobiology, Astrochemistry,

Please follow Astrobiology on Twitter.

  • submit to reddit