Believe in the force

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Nearly a decade after discovering molecular chirality in 1848, Louis Pasteur changed research direction and began investigating fermentations. Conflicting explanations have been given for this switch to microbiology, but the evidence strongly suggests that Pasteur’s appointment in 1854 to the University of Lille—an agricultural- industrial region where fermentation-based manufacturing was of great importance— and an appeal for help in 1856 by a local manufacturer experiencing problems in his beetroot-fermentation-based alcohol production played a significant role. Thus began, in late 1856, Pasteur’s pioneering studies of lactic and alcoholic fermentations. In 1857, reportedly as a result of a laboratory mishap, he found that in incubations of ammonium (6)-tartrate with unidentified microorganisms (1)-tartaric acid was consumed with con- siderable preference over (2)-tartaric acid. In 1860, he demonstrated a similar enantio- selectivity in the metabolism of tartaric acid by Penicillium glaucum, a common mold. Chance likely played a significant role both in Pasteur’s shift to microbiology and his discovery of enantioselective tartrate fermentations, but he rejected pure serendipity as a significant factor in experimental science and in his own career. Pasteur’s mile- stone discovery of biological enantioselectivity began the process that in the long run established the fundamental importance of molecular chirality in biology. Chirality
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)358-359
Number of pages2
JournalNature Nanotechnology
Publication statusPublished - 9 Apr 2018


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