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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Jun 9;106(23):9144-6. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0904350106. Epub 2009 May 28.

On the origin of terrestrial homochirality for nucleosides and amino acids.

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Department of Chemistry, Columbia University, New York, NY 10027, USA.


Before life could start on earth, it was important that the amino acid building blocks be present in a predominant handedness called the L configuration and that the ribose of RNA be predominantly in the D configuration. Because ordinary chemical processes would produce them in equal L and D amounts, it has long been a puzzle how the needed selectivities could have arisen. Carbonaceous chondrites such as the Murchison meteorite, which landed in Australia in 1969, brought some unusual amino acids with a methyl group replacing their alpha hydrogen. They cannot racemize and have a small but real excess of those with the L configuration. We have shown that they can partake in a synthesis of normal L amino acids under credible prebiotic conditions. We and others showed that small preferences can be amplified into solutions with very high dominance of the L amino acids because of the higher solubility of the pure L form than of the more stable DL racemic compound crystal. Here, we show that such solubility-based amplification of small excesses of three D nucleosides, uridine, adenosine, and cytidine, can also occur to form solutions with very high D dominance under credible prebiotic conditions. Guanosine crystallizes as a conglomerate and does not amplify in this way. However, under prebiotic conditions it could have been formed from homochiral D ribose from the hydrolysis of amplified adenosine or cytidine.

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