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All of life exists on just one side of a mirror. To put it more technically, the biomolecules that comprise living things—DNA, RNA, and proteins—are all “chiral.” Their building blocks have two possible mirror-image shapes, but in every case, life chooses just one. At least so far.

Today in Science, researchers report they’ve made strides toward exploring the other side of the mirror. They re-engineered a workhorse enzyme that synthesizes RNA so it makes the mirror-image form. They then used that enzyme to construct all the RNAs needed to make a ribosome, the cellular machine responsible for constructing proteins. Other components still need to be added, but once completed, a mirror-image ribosome might be able to churn out proteins that could serve as novel drugs and diagnostics and cant readily be broken down in the body. It also sets the stage for a grander goal: making mirror-image life, a prospect that has fired the imagination of scientists ever since Louis Pasteur discovered mirror-image compounds in 1848.

“This is a major step towards re-creating the central dogma of molecular biology in the mirror-image world,” says Stephen Kent, a professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Chicago who was not involved with the work.

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