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When there is only a single asymmetric carbon atom, these two different forms are known as optical isomers.
Chemically, there is very little difference between them, but biologically, there is as much difference as night and day.
He was quoted as saying that he had discovered the basis of the method in 1968, and that it was so obvious and simple he was amazed it hadn't been discovered earlier.
As a matter of fact, the basis of this method had been discovered earlier and had been reported in a series of papers published by Hare, Mitterer and Abelson in 1967, 1968, and 1969.
The extent of conversion of L-isoleucine to D-alloisoleucine in core sediment samples from various depths was then determined and conclusions based on the above rates were used to estimate the ages of the sediments from various core depths. Fragments of bone recovered from the Arizona desert and believed to be 2-3 years old were sealed in glass ampoules and heated at various temperatures.
The fragments were then hydrolyzed in 6M hydrochloric acid and the extent of racemization of L-isoleucine to D-alloisoleucine was determined.
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Amino acids are the "building blocks," or sub-units, of proteins.