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9/22/11 (Chirality)

There are some molecules that are almost identical, only they are mirror-images of each other. These molecules are called chiral, from the Greek word for ‘hand,’ as hands also come in identical mirror-image pairs. Some of the molecules are even distinguished with the prefixes R- and S-. The R is short for Rectus, Latin for right. The L is from the Latin word Sinister, meaning left. So, in a sense, there are ‘right-handed’ and ‘left-handed’ molecules.

These Right/Left differences can be surprising. Carvone is found in two common herbs, but one form gives its taste to Spearmint, the other to¬†Caraway¬†Seeds. In the 1950’s, Thalidomide was prescribed to many mothers. What they didn’t know was that while the right-handed isomer of Thalidomide was a harmless treatment for morning sickness, the left-handed isomer caused horrible birth defects.

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