Uwe Meierhenrich
Amino Acids and the Asymmetry of Life

Uwe Meierhenrich

Abstract:

How did life originate and why were left-handed molecules selected for its architecture?” This question of high public and interdisciplinary scientific interest is the central theme of this presentation. It is widely known that in processes triggering the origin of life on Earth, the equal occurrence, the parity between left-handed amino acids and their right-handed mirror images, was violated. The balance was inevitably tipped to the left – as a result of which life‘s proteins today exclusively implement the left form of amino acids.

The presentation will describe how the basic building blocks of life, the amino acids, formed. After a comprehensible introduction to stereochemistry, the author addresses the inherent property of amino acids in living organisms, namely the preference for left-handedness. What was the cause for the violation of parity of amino acids in the emergence of life on Earth? All the fascinating models proposed by physicists, chemists, and biologist will be vividly presented including the scientific conflicts. Meierhenrich will describe the attempt to verify any of those models with the chirality module of the ROSETTA mission, a probe built and launched with the mission to land on a comet and analyze whether there are chiral organic compounds that could have been brought to the Earth by cometary impacts.

Uwe Meierhenrich - Short Biography#

Meierhenrich is professor for Bioanalytical Chemistry and teaches at the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis in France.

Meierhenrich arose in a family of teachers and pro fessors. He studied chemistry at the Philipps-University Marburg and obtained a Ph.D. degree in Physical Chemistry at the University of Bremen by Thiemann. Meierhenrich became Post-doc at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Katlenburg-Lindau and at the French Synchrotron Center LURE. In 2003 Meierhenrich obtained the habilitation with the academic publication The Origin of Biomolecular Asymmetry at the University of Bremen. In 2005 he became full-professor in Bioanalytical Chemistry at the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis in France.

Meierhenrich’s name is connected with the identification of amino acids in space. In preparation of the cometary Rosetta-Mission of ESA the so-called interstellar ice was simulated in the laboratory, in which 16 amino acids were identified. Further experiments at the French Soleil Synchrotron and the Danish ISA synchrotron let assume that life's homochirality also originated under interstellar conditions.

In 2011 the Horst Pracejus-Prize of the GDCh awarded Meierhenrich’s discoveries on chirality and the asymmetry of life.

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