The enzyme was originally characterized from bacteria that produce the tripeptides bialaphos and phosalacine, which inhibit plant and bacterial glutamine synthetases. It is a radical S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAM) enzyme that contains a [4Fe-4S] center and a methylcob(III)alamin cofactor. According to the proposed mechanism, the reduced iron-sulfur center donates an electron to SAM, resulting in homolytic cleavage of the carbon-sulfur bond to form a 5'-deoxyadenosyl radical that abstracts the hydrogen atom from the P-H bond of the substrate, forming a phosphinate-centered radical. This radical reacts with methylcob(III)alamin to produce the methylated product and cob(II)alamin, which is reduced by an unknown donor to cob(I)alamin. A potential route for restoring the latter back to methylcob(III)alamin is a nucleophilic attack on a second SAM molecule. The enzyme acts in vivo on N-acetyldemethylphosphinothricin-L-alanyl-L-alanine or N-acetyl-demethylphosphinothricin-L-alanyl-L-leucine, the intermediates in the biosynthesis of bialaphos and phosalacine, respectively. This transformation produces the only example of a carbon-phosphorus-carbon linkage known to occur in nature.