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THE ORIGIN OF BIOLOGICAL HOMOCHIRALITY
24-25 April 2014

Program Organizers: Pablo Debenedetti, Frank Stillinger, Frank Ricci

Proteins and nucleic acids contain chiral subunits that exhibit only one of two possible forms. 19 of 20 naturally‐occurring amino acids are chiral, with the L‐form invariably synthesized in living forms. Nucleic acids use D‐ribose as their sugar component. These facts naturally generate fundamental questions about how those chiral asymmetries arose and were maintained and propagated in the terrestrial biosphere. Because life as we know it is chiral, the origin of biological homochirality is an important aspect of the broader question of the origin of life. Numerous hypotheses have been put forward to try to explain chiral symmetry breaking in a biological context (e.g., enantioselective photolysis in interstellar molecular clouds, parity‐violating weak interactions, chiral selection on inorganic surfaces, equilibrium phase behavior, and liquid‐phase chemical kinetics with autocatalysis). Experimental observations on crystallizing solutions add to the rich catalogue of circumstances that can give rise to chiral symmetry breaking. Although most of the work has been phenomenological, a good number of theoretical studies have appeared in recent years aimed at providing fundamental, quantitative and mechanistic understanding of plausible mechanisms that could explain the emergence of homochirality in the pre‐biotic world. The workshop brings together theoreticians and experimentalists to discuss the current status of basic understanding about this question, and to identify promising avenues for experimental and theoretical inquiry.

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