Symmetry Breaking in Chiral Crystallization: Pharmaceuticals and the Origin of Life

The homochirality of biological molecules – right-handed sugars and left-handed amino acids – is a signature of life. The single handedness in living systems implies that the two enantiomers of a molecule interact differently with chiral receptors. Synthesis of enantiopure compounds is a major challenge for the pharmaceutical industry as generally only one of the two enantiomers exerts the desired medical effect. Current ideas on the origin of life do not explain the origin of homochirality, yet the widely accepted ‘RNA world’ model cannot work without it. The origin of homochirality in nature has puzzled and mesmerized scientists from Pasteur’s times. This talk will summarize the experiments, hypothesis, results, and of course a touch of serendipity, which led us to exploiting racemization as the driving force for homochirality. Under certain conditions, one enantiomer nurtures the other in an autocatalytic fashion that evolves into single handedness.