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Bacteria get new badge as planet's detoxifier

A study published recently in PLOS ONE authored by Dr. Henry Sun and his postdoctoral student Dr. Gaosen Zhang of Nevada based research institute DRI provides new evidence that Earth bacteria can do something that is quite unusual. Despite the fact that these bacteria are made of left-handed (L) amino acids, they are able to grow on right-handed (D) amino acids. This DRI study, funded by the NASA Astrobiology Institute and the NASA Exobiology Program, takes a closer look at what these implications mean for studying organisms on Earth and beyond.

"This finding is important because 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. Our research shows that it is the bacteria that prevent D-amino acids from accumulating to toxic levels," explains Dr. Sun, who has studied microbial life in extreme environments in the Antarctic dry valleys, the Atacama Desert, and Death Valley.

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