Claudio’s work aims to identify novel bioactive natural products produced by fungi that have evolved in competitive environments.
Filamentous fungi are a long-time source of bioactive compounds used by the food, agrochemical, and pharmaceutical industries. Despite this, fungi isolated from competitive environments have been relatively understudied yet have the potential to produce many bioactive secondary metabolites (SMs).
One such example is Escovopsis weberi, a pathogenic filamentous fungus that has co-evolved with leafcutter ants, their garden fungus Leucoagaricus gongylophorus, and mutualistic Pseudonocardia bacteria. To establish itself and survive in this complex microbiome, E. weberi uses bioactive SMs.
Recent work identified some of these compounds and analysis of the genome revealed numerous additional biosynthetic gene clusters suggesting a vast array of cryptic SMs remain to be discovered. At present, many of these potentially valuable compounds are out-of-reach as no genetic tools have been developed for Escovopsis species.
Claudio’s research uses a range of molecular microbiological and chemical techniques to mine isolates of Escovopsis weberi to identify specialised metabolites and investigate their ecological role within the leafcutter ant microbiome.
There are three linked goals for Claudio’s research programme:
- Identifying SMs produced by E. weberi and investigating their ecological role
- Investigating the biosynthesis of these SMs
- Developing new ways to activate biosynthetic gene clusters
Batey SFD,Greco C,Hutchings MI,Wilkinson B (2020)Chemical warfare between fungus-growing ants and their pathogens.Current opinion in chemical biologyPublisher's version: 1367-5931