Life Is Left-Handed

Meditations in Motion

A good friend and former colleague lent me a book a few weeks ago. The title of the book is “The Disappearing Spoon“.

It’s an excellent read, especially if you are a science nerd like I am.

The author, Sam Kean, tells wild, wacky, and intriguing stories about elements on the periodic table. Sound like a page-turner? It is.

Buried in a story about the contributions of the great French biologist Louis Pasteur is the chemical definition of life.

Apparently, according to chemistry, life is left-handed.

Meditations in Motion

I have always been interested in “handedness” because I can’t easily tell left from right.

There have been many times when I am giving my husband driving directions and I tell him to “Turn left, no right, I mean left… Right.

The quickest way for me to tell left from right is to look at the hand wearing my wedding ring. I know that’s my left hand.

Before I was married, I had to mimic pledging allegiance. I knew my right hand went over my heart.

The typical method of teaching children to tell left from right, identifying your left hand as the one that forms an “L” with your index finger and thumb, didn’t work for me. In addition to being unable to tell left from right, I often drew many of my letters backward as a child and could not immediately tell which hand was making the (forward) letter “L“.

Pledging allegiance was a more reliable method.

Teaching the concept of equilibrium was baffling for me (I was a chemistry teacher), because I constantly had to refer to the “left” and “right” side of chemical equations.

My students would snicker as they caught me sliding sideways glances to my wedding ring to tell which side of the equation was the “left“.

Kids can be so cruel.

Life Is Left-Handed

Here is my explanation of why life is left-handed in three steps.

  1. The relatively large molecules that make up your body and all living things are made up of mostly carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms.

    These carbons, hydrogens, and oxygens are arranged in a certain very specific structure in each molecule. A small molecule containing three carbons, six hydrogens, and two oxygen atoms, for example, has 26 possible permutations, each one with completely different properties.

  2. Three-dimensional molecules may be arranged in a left-handed orientation or a right-handed orientation. The name for this is “chirality“.

    Chiral molecules are mirror images of each other, just like your left and right hands.

    Also just like your left and right hands, the left and right-handed molecules are decidedly not the same. The left-handed isomer of the chemical carvone smells like spearmint, which is not surprising. Most of the essential oil from spearmint is made up of carvone. The right-handed isomer of carvone smells like the caraway seeds that flavor rye bread.
    Life Is Left-Handed

  3. Life is left-handed.

    You see, every protein that composes your body and the bodies of all living things from giraffes to amoebas to sunflowers, is made from molecules with a left-handed orientation. We are all left-handed at heart.

    One of the worst epidemics of birth defects in the 20th century was caused by scientists not understanding chirality.

    Pregnant women were given the drug thalidomide to prevent morning sickness. Only the left-handed form of the drug, however, was benign. The right-handed version of the molecule caused unborn babies’ limbs to develop improperly or not at all.

    Living things naturally produce either the left-handed or right-handed version of molecules. Not both.

    Producing the same substances in the lab (unless special catalysts are used) produces a mixture of both the left and right-handed versions.

    The lab that produced thalidomide had no idea that when it produced a useful chemical to reduce the suffering of pregnant women, it was simultaneously producing a similar, but not identical chemical that caused horrendous birth defects in their unborn babies.

    Chirality matters, as we found out the hard way.

    We are all experiencing life with a left-handed twist.

    (Left-handed. That’s the hand with the wedding ring.)

You can find the places I link up here.

 

 

 

 

63 comments

  1. As a chemistry major (who never worked as a chemist) I enjoyed this post and I find it thought-provoking. I remember the thalidomide babies, but I never knew the information you presented here. That’s amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh Laurie, you touched a nerve! Early on in school they told us that the hand that we write with is our right hand…not true for me. Sometimes I have to do a three-point check on the mole on my left hand, making an L, and my wedding ring. After I figure out left and right my brain still can’t match the words to the directions so I do a lot of pointing left and saying “right”.

    Asking for a friend, if you’re a teacher and your students make fun of you for not being able to tell left from right can you give detention for that?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have one left-handed son and one left-handed grandson. When my son was in 1st grade, he could not choose a dominant hand. He would write with his left hand on the left side of the page and his right hand on the right side of the page.

      And I think giving detention for laughing at a teacher would probably be frowned on! πŸ™‚

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  3. OK, that went completely over my head. Right and Left are also directions that completely baffle me. By the time I make it all the way through the pledge of allegiance, the driver has completely missed the turn, has done a u-turn, then I need to figure it out all over again because right is now left and left is now right. Better that I just point.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Left-handed life — very interesting! John will appreciate that, since he is left-handed. I struggle with giving directions, too. I’ve learned that when I’m giving directions to the driver of the car, I should always point in the direction I want him to follow. My hands are much more trustworthy than my words.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I got meningitis as an adult and it left me often transposing numbers and letters. Especially when I type, and I have to triple check checks!
    I’ve often heard Left handed people are the only ones in their “right mind” too.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve never had a problem between right and left when it comes to my hands or giving directions, but I must confess that your science lesson has me lost. So much for my understanding of chemistry! Oh, well, God has blessed each of us with our own gifts, and for that, we can be grateful. Blessings, Laurie!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow, Laurie, so many things I didn’t know.
    Thanks for explaining that in a very clear and understandable way!

    Just the other day, when I was running with my husband and a running buddy, I mixed up left with right. The running buddy said he is used to it from his wife.

    I wonder: are women more prone to mixing up directions?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hello, thanks for this interesting post and information. I am bad at giving hubby directions, I think one thing and say another. But I can get in my car and drive most places without any trouble. Have a great day and a happy weekend ahead.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Science was not my strong point Laurie – biology and zoology perhaps, but chemistry and physical science – no. Nor math and that is why I abandoned the idea of going into veterinary medicine. I think I memorized the box of rocks and their characteristics in physical science class to get a grade boost. That said, I am terrible with directions too and I take surface streets so I don’t get turned around on the expressway. I was on the expressway with a friend one time and she was driving and a semi-trailer cut her off. I was sure we were goners.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think veterinary medicine schools are even more competitive than regular medical schools to get into! You have expressed your love for animals in other ways.

      Those big trucks on the expressways go zipping down the road pretty fast. I am scared of them too.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, you are right Laurie and I’m not sure I would have had the heart nor stomach to see animals in pain. Growing up, many young girls want to be nurses when they grew up – that was not a dream of mine, but being a vet was. Perhaps it was also fueled by the James Herriot books. My father said he’d put me through vet school, but I did not have the grades for it.

        Me too with the big trucks. My friend and I were on the expressway and a big truck did not let us merge and we rolled up the embankment, but did not flip and now I have issues about merging. When we traveled to Toronto to visit my grandmother, we were on 3 or 4 expressways and the last three were quick lane changes. The big trucks would sandwich my car in between them and ride like that for miles.

        Liked by 1 person

      • My vet talked to me when we saw him a lot when Benji was sick. He said one of his vet school colleagues went into research rather than open up a practice for just that reason – she couldn’t stand to see animals in pain. Our vet cried with us when Benji died. He is a compassionate man. And the vet assistant was a boy I had in school. He is now in vet school to become a veterinarian. He will be a good one – he is smart and kind.

        Oh my goodness! That WAS a close call!!! Thank heavens you were both unharmed.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I should have taken my bleeding heart into consideration more Laurie … I am sure most vets are kindly, as they know pets become an extension of the family, but your vet sounds exceptional Laurie. I can see someone going through all those years of college and unable to see animals in pain … people can at least tell you where they hurt or what is wrong. And repairing someone’s pet who has been brutally attacked by another animal or been run over by a car? I couldn’t do it. How nice to know one of your former students will go from vet tech to veterinarian down the road. And he applies his high school chemistry to his bank of knowledge for the sciences.

        I had a former boss who was an attorney and he specialized in medical malpractice defense. He wanted to be a doctor and went through med school, but once he was in residency, he discovered he could not stand the sight of blood. All the book work would not have prepared him for it – he was asked to draw blood and he set up to do this, and saw the blood flowing through the plastic tube and promptly passed out cold. He was picked up off the floor, and onto a gurney and they watched over him to ensure he was okay. He thought it was just being light-headed and to do this in front of other med students, doctors who would be supervising him or his mentor was horrifying … but the next day it happened again. He told me he never saw blood before – no one had any accidents at home – it was quite the shock to switch careers like that, but he went to law school as soon as he could sign up.

        Yes, the truck driver could have killed us – we were both shaking like a leaf and after that, I have had issues when merging.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Our vet is truly exceptional, Linda. He is not only a good doctor, he is a great mentor to all the kids who work there who have dreams of becoming a vet.

        One nice thing about the vet tech who was a former student – he thanked me for teaching him chemistry and told me “I couldn’t have done it without you.” (He could have.)

        I had kids in school who thought they wanted to go into the medical field. Then they donated blood at the school blood drive and fainted. They usually found other professions that interested them. I had 2 girls pass out in my room.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That is the kind of vet to have. Mine for my birds was an avian specialist and I liked her a lot. She’d tell me stories about their parrot who “demanded” a plate of spaghetti every time they had spaghetti – no hiding it from him as he saw it and would squawk until he got it on a paper plate on the bottom of his cage. Dr. Cook practices with her husband. But your vet seemed to go above and beyond.

        Chemistry is important though for science studies, so it’s nice he thanked you. You said you tried to make chemistry interesting. My high school chemistry teacher did not do that – it was like he showed up for class and that’s it.

        That’s interesting about donating blood and having to choose a new career after fainting. I used to give three times a year at a local church. I had no issues with giving blood except my veins are small and they could not find a good vein to put the needle. One time I went to the blood drive and I had a newbie and the needle kept falling out – after many tries, I suggested she get a senior phlebotomist to finish and said “it’s not your fault – others have trouble finding a vein.” She stalked off leaving me there on the table, so I had to get up and ask someone to come over to finish. I got home and my arm was black and blue from the tourniquet and the multiple needle stabs and I never went back. Why did the girls pass out in your room – what made them so squeamish?

        Liked by 1 person

      • My vet really did go above and beyond. He wrote us a nice hand-written letter after Benji died.

        That is a horror story about your blood donation. That nurse certainly did not act in a professional way! The girls passed out because they didn’t really weigh enough to donate blood. At that time, you were supposed to weigh 120 pounds to donate, but they have since lowered it to 115. I bet those girls couldn’t have weighed much more than 110.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That was nice of your vet to write a letter Laurie. I got a sympathy card for both my birds from my vet’s office. Your vet is very special.

        Yes, a cluster of the seasoned phlebotomists was standing having donuts and coffee and talking (complaining) about their significant others. So, I did get an attitude about the whole way it was handled and also how my arm looked as it was black-and-blue. I didn’t remember the weight – I guess mine was not an issue, but I had trouble reaching the preferred hemocrit level because I did not eat red meat very much (that’s what they said). I didn’t want to take iron pills as they recommended, so I started eating more spinach salads so it was okay then.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Bill hasn’t donated blood for a while for the exact same reason – a bad experience with an less-than-professional nurse which resulted in unnessary pain for him.

        Like

  10. I enjoyed this lesson Laurie!
    We used to think people were either left brained or right brained but recent research reveals that both sides of the brain are used for differing emotions, memories & actions. Unless injured of course. So very interesting!
    Bless you,
    Jennifer

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I never thought about left and right-brained. I should have tied that into the post as well. One of my favorite books is called “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.” I’m going to have to take another look at that book now that you have reminded me of it!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. That is so interesting. Thank you for explaining it so well. Chemistry was never my strong subject at school, but this makes me want to go back and learn more. I’m the same with left and right. Almost without fail, I’ll say the opposite to the one I mean. Pointing is good. I notice I often have to say “the other left” to my left handed daughter, because she’s just the same.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha! My work here is done. I have made someone want to learn more about chemistry! πŸ™‚ My husband uses the same phrase with me: “the other left”. I have 1 left-handed son and 1 left-handed grandson.

      Like

  12. All that science was a bit over my head but fascinating none the less. Despite my lack of scientific knowledge, I do understand the left/right thing. I know my left vs. right but can not verbalize it. My husband has learned to go the direction I point, not the direction I say and if giving directions over the phone or in writing, I have to point, look at my hand then say it or write it down.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sorry, Jeannie. I just finished reading a science book that was over my head and I know it’s not fun. I point a lot when giving directions too. I wonder if it’s a gender thing???

      Like

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