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Detoxifying role of Earth’s bacteria

By Tim Sandle     Apr 9, 2014 in Science
Bacteria can do something that is quite unusual, they are able to detoxify a class of amino acids produced by plants and animals. Without this process occurring, the planet would be poisoned.
Amino acids, the fundamental building blocks of life, come in two forms could L- and D-. Most cells use the L-form. Amino acids are biologically important organic compounds. Amino acids are the structural units (monomers) that make up proteins. They join together to form short polymer chains called peptides or longer chains called either polypeptides or proteins. Whilst humans need the L-forms, to people and animals the D-forms are considered toxic.
D-amino acids are slowly produced in soils through geochemical transformation of L amino acids. If they were allowed to accumulate, they would poison the environment for plants and animals. This doesn’t happen thanks to the activities of the planet’s bacteria.
It appears, according to a new study, that all bacteria carry a specialized enzyme known as racemase which converts amino acids from one form to another. This is all well and good. However, according to Dr. Gaosen Zhang of Nevada based research institute DRI, bacteria from other planets might work in the opposite direction. If such bacteria were to reach Earth they could compete with the Earth bacteria. The outcome of this competition could be a rise in toxins.
The findings have been reported to the journal PLOS One in a paper titled “Racemization in Reverse: Evidence that D-Amino Acid Toxicity on Earth Is Controlled by Bacteria with Racemases.”
More about Toxins, Bacteria, Earth, Amino acids
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