Amino Acids: What are they and what do they do?
Oftentimes, we first hear about amino acids in high school biology class and, then, rarely give them another thought. We forget the important roles that amino acids have in our lives and in the lifecycle of the foods we eat.
Amino acids are often referred to as the building blocks of proteins. These organic molecules link with one another to form long polypeptide chains, which, in turn, form the various proteins that are present in all living organisms. They are also the precursors of several substances that regulate plant metabolism, such as plant hormones, coenzymes and cell wall polymers, as well as others. In order to grow and develop, plants need to synthesize a continuous supply of protein-forming amino acids.
Separated into L-amino acids and D-amino acids based on whether their spatial configuration bears to the left or right, only L-amino acids are found in biological activity. These types of amino acids participate in plant metabolism in different ways, from aiding in the metabolism of nitrogen to transporting minerals to various parts of the plants. Even after delivering their minerals, the amino acids themselves are useful to plants and are known to offset external stresses, including those associated with common herbicides and environmental factors.
Amino acids can also serve as organic complexing agents, delivering micronutrients in a highly bioavailable, environmentally friendly form. Minerals complexed with amino acids can bypass the leaf’s surface and be rapidly absorbed. These molecules remain intact as they travel through the leaf barrier with minimal interference. From there, they may either be absorbed and used by the leaf cells or travel on to the phloem, typically to new leaves, flowers, fruit and other fast-growing parts of the plant.