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Molecular handedness found in space

Propylene oxide’s two mirror-image forms could be clue to biological chirality

By
3:00pm, June 15, 2016
gas cloud with molecular structure

MOLECULE CLUE  A gas cloud (Sagittarius B2) near the center of the galaxy (Sagittarius A*) is loaded with propylene oxide, a molecule that comes in mirror-image configurations.

SAN DIEGO — A clue about why life on Earth chooses only one mirror-image form of certain molecules might lie in a gas cloud tens of thousands of light-years away.

For the first time, researchers have detected a chiral molecule, propylene oxide, in interstellar space. Chiral molecules, which come in two mirror-image versions, show up in many of life’s building blocks, such as the amino acids that make up proteins as well as sugars. The finding may be a step toward understanding why life prefers one of these versions over another.

The results were presented June 14 at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society and published online the same day in Science.

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