glutamic acid [key], organic compound, one of the 20 amino acids commonly found in animal proteins. Only the l-stereoisomer occurs in mammalian proteins. Like aspartic acid, glutamic acid has an acidic carboxyl group on its side chain which can serve as both an acceptor and a donor of ammonia, a compound toxic to the body. Once glutamic acid has coupled with ammonia, it is called glutamine and can as such safely transport ammonia to the liver, where the ammonia is eventually converted to urea for excretion by the kidneys. Free glutamic acid (that not incorporated into proteins) can also be converted reversibly to α-ketoglutaric acid, an intermediate in the Krebs cycle, and as such can be degraded to carbon dioxide and water, or transformed into sugars. The acidic side chain of glutamic acid confers one negative charge under most conditions to proteins in which this amino acid is found, thus increasing the water solubility of the protein. Monosodium glutamate (MSG), the monosodium salt of l-glutamic acid, is widely used as a condiment. The amino acid was isolated from wheat gluten in 1866 and chemically synthesized in 1890. It is not essential to the human diet, since it can be synthesized in the body from the common intermediate α-ketoglutaric acid.
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