Figure 3.5 Three-dimensional views of the glyceraldehyde structure: (a) mirror-image views; (b) views showing the orientation with hydrogen of the central carbon pointed toward the viewer.

because the three groups attached to the central carbon atom are arranged in opposite directions around the carbon.

The importance of chirality is that these isomers are biochemically different and will react differently from each other. Fundamentally, optical isomers have different shapes from each other. The shape of a molecule determines how it can form complexes with other molecules. As described below, the formation of complexes, especially with enzyme molecules, is a key step in a biochemical reaction. For example, d-glucose can be used for energy by the brain, but ¿-glucose cannot. Similar differences are true for many other stereoisomeric biochemical compounds. Another name for d-glucose is dextrose, the familiar ingredient in manufactured food items.

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