serine [key], organic compound, one of the 20 amino acids commonly found in animal proteins. Only the l-stereoisomer appears in mammalian protein. It is not essential to the human diet, since it can be synthesized in the body from other metabolites, including glycine. Serine is important in metabolism in that it participates in the biosynthesis of purines and pyrimidines, cysteine, tryptophan (in bacteria), and a large number of other metabolites. When incorporated into the structure of enzymes, serine often plays an important role in their catalytic function. It has been shown to occur in the active sites of chymotrypsin, trypsin, and many other enzymes. The so-called nerve gases and many substances used in insecticides have been shown to act by combining with a residue of serine in the active site of acetylcholine esterase, inhibiting the enzyme completely. Without the esterase activity that usually destroys acetylcholine as soon as it performs its function, dangerously high levels of this neurotransmitter build up, quickly resulting in convulsions and death. Serine was first obtained from silk protein, a particularly rich source, in 1865; its structure was established in 1902.
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