Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology, Vol.104, No.2, 555-574, 2020
D-amino acids in foods
With the only exception of glycine, all amino acids exist in two specular structures which are mirror images of each other, called D-(dextro) and L-(levo) enantiomers. During evolution, L-amino acids were preferred for protein synthesis and main metabolism; however, the D-amino acids (D-AAs) acquired different and specific functions in different organisms (from playing a structural role in the peptidoglycan of the bacterial cell wall to modulating neurotransmission in mammalian brain). With the advent of sophisticated and sensitive analytical techniques, it was established during the past few decades that many foods contain considerable amounts of D-AAs: we consume more than 100 mg of D-AAs every day. D-AAs are present in a variety of foodstuffs, where they fulfill a relevant role in producing differences in taste and flavor and in their antimicrobial and antiaging properties from the corresponding L-enantiomers. In this review, we report on the derivation of D-AAs in foods, mainly originating from the starting materials, fermentation processes, racemization during food processing, or contamination. We then focus on leading-edge methods to identify and quantify D-AAs in foods. Finally, current knowledge concerning the effect of D-AAs on the nutritional state and human health is summarized, highlighting some positive and negative effects. Notwithstanding recent progress in D-AA research, the relationships between presence and nutritional value of D-AAs in foods represent a main scientific issue with interesting economic impact in the near future.