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South African Journal of Science

On-line version ISSN 1996-7489
Print version ISSN 0038-2353

S. Afr. j. sci. vol.103 n.1-2 Pretoria Jan./Feb. 2007




Stereochemistry and vitalism



Keith Manchester

School of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of the Witwatersrand, Private Bag 3, WITS 2050, South Africa. E-mail:



“Full text available only in PDF format”




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aChiral -from the Greekfor a hand. Our two hands constitute non-superposable mirror images of each other. Chiral compounds arise in organic chemistry when the four valencies of a carbon atom are attached to four different groups, resulting in two mirror image non-superposable molecular orientations, one of which in solution will rotate the plane of polarized light to the right (d- or +), the other to the left (/- or-). The two forms are enantiomorphs of each other and are often designated by a convention introduced by Emil Fischer as D- and L-, where the capital letters relate to structural forms and do not directly relate to d- and /- , which are purely empirical. Chemists today have replaced Fischer's D- and L- with an R (Latin rectus, right) and S (Latin sinister, left) convention.
b Fly agaric is so called because country people formerly used the juice of the stewed mushroom as a fly repellent.
cAccording to Brabazon,8 the professor who wrote to Sayers suggested that muscarine was not optically active because it was not a protein, but this seems unlikely
dDr Eustace Robert Barton (1868-1943) already had experience of writing medical mystery stories using the pseudonym of Robert Eustace. The Documents in the Case is the only one of Sayers' major novels written jointly with another author and the only one in which the services of Lord Peter Wimsey are not required.
eIn fact, A. muscaria is far from the richest source of muscarine, its toxicity being due more to its content of the hallucinogenic ibotenic acid 7 and its decomposition product muscimol 8. Members of the Inocybe family such as I. patouillardii (Fig. 4) contain several hundredfold higher concentrations of muscarine.24

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