Chemists win 2001 AD Nobel Prize for sorting right hand from left after 33 years of research.
Many molecules come in two slightly different shapes. They are like your two hands – they contain the same components but are mirror images of one another in shape. The different forms of molecules are referred to as right handed and left handed versions. Many components of living cells are made of such molecules but only one mirror image form is used. Living cells always use left handed amino acid and right handed sugars. This is because many components of living tissue are made up of long strings of amino acids and sugars joined together and the two forms of each molecule do not fit together in the same way.
Many drugs also have right and left handed forms which can have different effects. The most notorious example of this is thalidomide, where one form was a useful anti-nausea treatment but the other form damaged the babies of pregnant women who took it for morning sickness. In most such drugs the difference in shape simply means one form is more active than the other. Traditional industrial chemical processes used to manufacture drugs always produce equal mixtures of right and left handed forms. To make safer, more effective drugs a means of producing only one form of the molecule needed to be found.
In 1968 William Knowles discovered a catalyst that produced 15 percent more of one molecule. Over the next twenty years Ryoji Noyori and Barry Sharpless developed other catalysts and applied the process to different chemical reactions. In the meantime Knowles led the team that developed the production of L-dopa, a drug used to treat Parkinson’s disease. Now, three decades after Knowles’ original work, chemical manufacturers are able to produce high yields of pure left or right handed molecules and Knowles, Noyori and Sharpless won the Nobel prize.
Editorial Comment: All living cells are made of such molecules and depend on them to function. In fact, living cells can only function because of the purity of the exclusively left handed amino acids and right handed sugars they use. Therefore, it is absurd to claim making pure one-handed only drugs required Nobel Prize winning scientists, but that living cells were produced randomly or naturally. The fact that the drug work is worthy of a Nobel Prize is proof of the intelligent planning and manipulation God used in the beginning to make and use the different forms of molecules.
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