Jason Hein’s favorite structure is:

racemic and enantiopure ribo-aminooxazole




This molecule has been identified as possibly one of the earliest progenitors to RNA on a pre-biotic earth. This simple product, formed by the condensation of HCN and formaldehyde is so important because it easily crystalizes from solutions containing complex mixtures of product, allowing it to accumulate in the environment and "outlast" normal breakdown. This purification and sequestration by crystallization also has another very important feature; it allows the molecule to separate as a single enantiomer. This is a critical feature, as without enatiopure starting material RNA self replication would not be possible. The key question was weather ribo-amino-oxazole preferentially crystalized in its enantiopure or racemate form. Moreover, we needed to know how it would spontaneously nucleate from a very complex reaction mixture to mimic how this may be relevant to a pre-biotic environment. Our study showed that while the pure ribo-amino-oxazole tended to form a racemate crystal (and thereby would allow both enantiomers to accumulate), it prefers the enatiopure crystal from when nucleated from complex reaction mixtures. This study offers a glimpse at RNA could have been formed spontaneously and may offer proof as to why all RNA and DNA exists as a single chirality.—Jason Hein

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