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Søren Vrønning Hoffmann

Photochirogenesis: Photochemical models on the absolute asymmetric formation of amino acids in interstellar space

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  • Cornelia Meinert, University of Nice-Sophia Antipolis, France
  • Pierre de Marcellus, Universite Paris-Sud, France
  • Louis Le Sergeant d'Hendecourt, Universite Paris-Sud and CNRS, France
  • Laurent Nahon, Synchrotron Soleil, France
  • Nykola C. Jones
  • Søren Vrønning Hoffmann
  • Jan Hendrik Bredehöft, University of Bremen, Germany
  • Uwe J. Meierhenrich, University of Nice-Sophia Antipolis, France
Proteins of all living organisms including plants, animals, and humans are made up of amino acid monomers that show identical stereochemical L-configuration. Hypotheses for the origin of this symmetry breaking in biomolecules include the absolute asymmetric photochemistry model by which interstellar ultraviolet (UV) circularly polarized light (CPL) induces an enantiomeric excess in chiral organic molecules in the interstellar/circumstellar media. This scenario is supported by a) the detection of amino acids in the organic residues of UV-photo-processed interstellar ice analogues, b) the occurrence of L-enantiomer-enriched amino acids in carbonaceous meteorites, and c) the observation of CPL of the same helicity over large distance scales in the massive star-forming region of Orion. These topics are of high importance in topical biophysical research and will be discussed in this review. Further evidence that amino acids and other molecules of prebiotic interest are asymmetrically formed in space comes from studies on the enantioselective photolysis of amino acids by UV-CPL. Also, experiments have been performed on the absolute asymmetric photochemical synthesis of enantiomer-enriched amino acids from mixtures of astrophysically relevant achiral precursor molecules using UV-circularly polarized photons. Both approaches are based on circular dichroic transitions of amino acids that will be highlighted here as well. These results have strong implications on our current understanding of how life’s precursor molecules were possibly built and how life selected the left-handed form of proteinogenic amino acids.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPhysics of Life Reviews
Pages (from-to)307-330
Number of pages24
Publication statusPublished - 2011

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