Wednesday, June 15, 2016

“Life's First Handshake”: Propylene in Space

The organic molecules that comprise living beings are quite large and complex. They are often made up of smaller, but still relatively large, molecules which need special proteins to bind them together, as they would not naturally bind on their own. For example, DNA is a very long molecule composed of nucleotides, which are assembled in order by the ribosomes of a cell, copying the pattern of another DNA molecule. The nucleotides themselves are made up of smaller (but still rather large) components, including deoxyribose sugar, a phosphate group, and a nitrogenous base. Such complex molecules are necessary for life, so the origin of such molecules is a puzzle to those who search for a purely naturalistic explanation, as these molecules do not easily form apart from life itself.

There is another problem, however. Many large organic molecules have two forms (enantiomers), right-handed and left-handed, which are mirror images of each other. These molecules are called “chiral.” Any known chemical process that forms such chiral molecules results in equal amounts of each enantiomer, yet, only one or the other is found in living things. For example, the sugar in the nucleotides which make up the DNA strand is all right-handed, giving DNA its characteristic spiral. Substituting a left-handed sugar at any point would disrupt the shape of the DNA molecule, possibly resulting in deformities or even death. Therefore, it is difficult to explain how life could arise if both enantiomers of all chiral molecules were present in equal abundance, as they would behave the same chemically.

Since no known process on earth seems to produce more of one enantiomer, scientists have been looking to space to solve their biochemical conundrum. Yesterday, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory reported that a chiral organic molecule was finally identified in an interstellar cloud. I won't go into great detail about how molecules can be identified at such great distances, but suffice to say that it involves the interaction of the molecules with light, and that I am willing to accept their findings. It is important to note, however, that the handedness of the molecules could not be identified using current methods.

The researchers involved in the discovery hope to develop a method of identifying the handedness of these molecules. If predominantly one enantiomer is identified, it can give them a possible source for the homochirality found in life on earth. As one researcher said, “By discovering a chiral molecule in space, we finally have a way to study where and how these molecules form before they find their way into meteorites and comets, and to understand the role they play in the origins of homochirality and life.” Since processes on earth don't seem conducive to forming life, naturalistic evolutionists must look to space for their answers. I imagine there will not be much celebration if both enantiomers are found in equal measure.

By the way, the molecule that was identified was propylene oxide, a liquid with industrial uses, including production of plastic. As far as I can tell, it is not found in any lifeforms.

3 comments:

  1. Glad to see your post- its been a while! CY

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  2. I'm glad you're back and glad you're still as honest as usual. Hope to see more from you :)

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