The so-called Fine tuned model of the universe asserts that any small change in several of the dimensionless fundamental physical constants would make the universe radically different (and hence one in which life as we know it could not exist). I suggest here that there may be molecules which epitomize the same principle in chemistry. Consider for example dimethyl formamide. The NMR spectra of this molecule reveal that at room temperature, the two methyl groups are inequivalent, indicating that the rate constant for rotation about the C-N bond has a very particular range of values at the temperatures at which most living organisms exist on our planet.
The half-restricted room-temperature rotation about the C-N bond arises from exactly the right amount of resonance contribution from the ionic form shown on the right, and this in turn depends on the relative energies of the nitrogen pair and the π system of the carbonyl group having the correct relationship. It is probably also true that the environment that this grouping finds itself in will alter the contribution (i.e. stabilize the ionic form over the neutral one). A little less contribution and the C-N bond would rotate much more easily, a little more and it would be much more rigid. Since this peptide bond is an essential and repeated feature of the structure of most biological proteins and enzymes, one might speculate that if that bond could rotate more easily, most enzymes would be much floppier than they are, and may not be easily induced to fold in a repeatable manner into the conformations that enable all the metabolic processes and make them the efficient catalysts they are. If the bond rotated less easily, it might be that the same enzymes would end up being too rigid, and this may prevent them from flexing sufficiently to allow key metabolites to enter or leave the active site.
Nowadays, the flexing of proteins is commonly studied using techniques of molecular dynamics, the driving forces for which are specified using molecule mechanics force fields. Here, the rotation about the C-N bond is defined by simple mechanical force constants or torsional barriers. I ask here how sensitive the dynamics of protein folding and catalysis are to the C-N rotational barrier? Is this truly a fine-tuned molecule, or might it be that the existence of life as we know it has a wide tolerance to the strength of the C-N bond?