SYDNEY, Australia - Australia has staked a place in the growing industry of creating chirally pure, or geometrically pure, biotech compounds as Deakin University in Victoria opened the Centre for Chiral and Molecular Technologies.

Director of the new center, Dainis Dakternieks, said that there were centers specializing in making geometrically pure biotech material in Japan, the UK and the U.S. His center uses a different technology than the others, a reagent to purify material, he said.

Many of the complicated biological molecules have a geometrical shape. DNA has a spiral, while others may, say, have a submolecular group that juts out at an angle from the main body of the molecule.

Two molecules may then have an identical chemical composition but a different "handedness." Instead of the DNA spiral twisting clockwise, it may twist counterclockwise, or the submolecular group may jut out to the left of the main molecule rather than to the right.

Molecules with identical compositions but different geometries - often biotech material will have molecules of both handedness - may have quite different effects.

As an example, Dakternieks points to the drug thalidomide, which caused a series of birth defects in the 1960s. He said that the thalidomide molecule has two distinct geometries, and its appalling side effects were caused by molecules of one handedness and not the other.

The center is now patenting its technology for creating chirally pure substances. It would not manufacture any biotech material, but would work out the production process for a particular molecule for biotech companies to use, he said.