"A serious puzzle about the nature of life is that most of its molecules are right-handed or left-handed, whereas in nature mixtures of both forms exist. Dr. Joyce said he had hoped an explanation for the one-handedness of biological molecules would emerge from prebiotic chemistry, but Dr. Sutherland’s reactions do not supply any such explanation. One is certainly required because of what is known to chemists as "original syn," referring to a chemical operation that can affect a molecule’s handedness."Original what? I've never heard that before. There doesn't seem to be anything Googleable* about it. Besides, it doesn't even make sense from a terminology standpoint. "Syn" is a relative definition of chirality, not an absolute one.
Readers, what say you? Was the NYT reporter making this up out of whole cloth? I'll bet it was some scamp of a professor foisting his bad puns as common usage.
*My Google-fu is competent (but not great), so I admit that there could be something out there that I missed. But "original syn" -album plus chirality or homochirality or any other prebiotic Donna Blackmond awesomeness buzzwords only returns the NYT article...
UPDATE: Chemblogiverse eminence grise Paul Bracher graciously responds to an e-mail:
I’ve worked on origin-of-life chemistry for 4+ years, gone to scores of talks on the subject (one by Joyce), and read hundreds of articles (many by Joyce). I, too, can’t remember ever hearing of “original syn” before. The term that most people use is “prebiotic synthesis” or “prebiotically-feasible/And later, Paul updates:
plausible synthesis”. I don’t even think people refer to it as “prebiotic syn”.
Actually, reading that over again, I assumed that the “syn” referred to making the molecule (synthesis) rather than what the article says (a reference to the stereochemistry—there, as you point out, “syn” makes no sense). Obviously, someone wanted to make a pun (hard to tell whether it was the reporter or a scientist) and crammed it in.
So, to be thorough, there are two possibly pertinent terms. The first, is “prebiotic synthesis”, which is the synthesis of biologically important molecules using conditions that were plausible on the prebiotic Earth. The second term is “homochirality”. What these guys are calling the search for the “original syn” is more properly the search for the “origin of homochirality.”
Anyway, can’t we just agree not to make bad puns unless they are also precise?
I agree, especially on the puns. Thanks, Paul!
UPDATE 2: I've put an e-mail into Nicholas Wade -- let's see if anything comes of it. In addition, there is an accompanying article with a stunning (for a newspaper, anyway) scheme of the reactions they tried from the Nature article. Always nice to see structures (and not the fake pseudo-structures that graphic artists are strangely in love with.)
I also want to note that in the Nature article and the commentary in the same issue, I don't think the term is used.
P.S. Maybe it was "original sin" as in sinistral? Who knows...