Glycine

August 08, 2016
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Glycine is the smallest possible of the 20 amino acids that are essential for human life. In a seeming contradiction, glycine is called a “nonessential” amino acid because it can be synthesized by the body and therefore does not have to be included in the diet. It is the only achiral amino acid in that the carbon atom bearing the carboxylate and amino groups is not a stereogenic center.

In 1924, Hilda Louise Kingston and Samuel Barnett Schryver at the Imperial College of Science and Technology (London) isolated glycine from the hydrolysis products of gelatin. The following year, two laboratory syntheses of glycine were published in Organic Syntheses. In the subsequent 30 years, additional biological sources were identified and lab syntheses developed.

Just this year, humble glycine made a big splash in the news. Scientists at the NASA Goddard Space Center (Greenbelt, MD) found glycine in particles of the comet Wild 2 that were returned to Earth by the Stardust spacecraft. This finding confirms some scientists’ belief that biological building blocks may have come to Earth from space, but because the molecule was glycine, the origin of chirality is still murky.

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