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New role for righty molecules

Researchers have identified a role for rare, right-handed versions of amino acids. This so-called D-form of nature's building blocks allows bacterial cell walls to adapt to changes in the environment, says a study in Science this week -- marking one of the few times the D-aminos have been linked to biological function.

"If you go back in literature dating 20-40 years ago, it was widely believed that we existed in a strictly 'left-handed' protein world," said Steven R. Blanke, a microbiologist at the University of Illinois who was not involved in the study. The current work and a few other recent studies, he said, show that "some biological systems could have possibly evolved to utilize the D-forms of some amino acids more than previously thought."

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