The discovery of aspartic acid

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Aspartic acid is a nonessential amino acid with the chemical formula C4H7NO4. It is widely distributed in proteins and found as an excitatory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. It is found especially in young sugarcane and sugar-beet molasses[1].


The French chemist Auguste-Arthur Plisson discovered[2] aspartic acid in 1827 when repeating an experiment that was conducted by another scientist on the roots of marsh-mallow (Althaea officinalis). His 1827 publication details his experiment in the following manner:

  • He first added alcohol to the aqueous extract from the root of marsh-mallow and a crystalline substance formed.
  • The crystals were separated and added to water. This solution was mixed with a hot solution of lead hydroxide.
  • The solution was then boiled until the distilled alcohol contained no trace of ammonia. After boiling, a white substance remained.
  • This substance was then filtered, washed and exposed to hydrogen sulphide gas.
  • The white substance was then added to alcohol and crystallised 3 times at 20 degrees Celsius.

He noted that this new acid had properties similar to that of asparagine and so proceeded to call it “aspartic acid”. Here is a photograph[3] of pure aspartic acid powder:


No portrait of Auguste-Arthur Plisson could be found nor could his lifetime be ascertained.

  2., pages 175-184.