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New amino acid discovered; Fundamental building block of life

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Two teams of researchers from Ohio State University reported today that they had identified the 22nd genetically encoded amino acid, a discovery that is the biological equivalent of physicists finding a new fundamental particle or chemists discovering a new element.

Two papers describing the discovery appear in the current issue of the journal Science. Prior to this, scientists had believed that there were only 21 natural amino acids -- the key building blocks of proteins.

For 30 years after the discovery of the structure of DNA and the unraveling of the genetic code, scientists believed that there were only 20 natural amino acids. Then in 1986, researchers broke that numerical barrier announcing that the 21st had been discovered.

Finding a 22nd suggests that even more of these basic biological building blocks may be found using modern genome sequencing techniques.

The discovery grew out of some very basic biochemistry examining how a particular type of microbe - methanogens - can convert methyl-containing compounds into methane. While researchers have long understood the biochemical mechanisms for how acetate and carbon dioxide are converted to methane, they didn't understand how a common class of compounds - the methylamines - are transformed into this gas.
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Contact: Joseph A. Krzycki
Krzycki.1@osu.edu
614-292-1578
Ohio State University
23-May-2002


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