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Understanding the Origins of Life

Posted on 3 January 2012

Paul Clarke highlights his group's progress on origins of life

The desire to know where we come from permeates our psyche and is part of what makes us Human. Obviously for Life to have begun all the molecules needed to create Life must have been present; however, our understanding how these molecules arose is incomplete. Especially perplexing is how did carbohydrates, which are needed to mediate a host of biological processes and are present in DNA and RNA, arise in the first instance? And why are these carbohydrates all of the same ‘right-handed’ form, when amino acids are of the opposite ‘left-handed’ form?

prebiotic picture

In collaboration with the Hayes group at Nottingham, the group of Paul Clarke (Chemistry) has observed that simple left-handed amino acid molecules catalyse the formation of two simple right-handed carbohydrates in good yields, under plausibly prebiotic conditions. This may offer an explanation for how carbohydrates originally arose and why the ‘right-handed’ form dominates in nature. 

Lead reference: Org. Biomol. Chem. 2012: DOI: 10.1039/C1OB06798B