The John Innes Centre Publications Repository contains details of all publications resulting from our researchers.
The repository also includes Open Access publications, which can be identified by the icons found on search results.
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The creation of this publications repository was funded by BBSRC.
Symbiotic partnerships and their chemical interactions in the leafcutter ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae)
Myrmecological News (27) 59-74
Publisher's version: n
ID: 59596read more
Leafcutter ants are indigenous to Central and South America and the southern US and are noticeable for their active herbivorous behaviours, collecting mostly fresh plant parts to manure underground gardens of their Leucoagaricus gongylophorus fungal cultivars. These gardens contain a single clone of the cultivar but are also susceptible to pathogens, most notably the specialised mycopathogen Escovopsis. Pathogen pressure led to the evolution of intensive grooming behaviours assisted by antimicrobials produced in endocrine glands and by domesticated antibiotic-producing actinobacteria grown on the integument of workers. The most notable of these are Pseudonocardia species that are abundant in Acromyrmex but have been lost in Atta leafcutter ants. The leafcutter ant symbiosis represents a fascinating example of chemical warfare of which the details are becoming increasingly known. Here, we review recent progress in understanding the complex interactions that take place between the mutualistic and parasitic symbionts, particularly between the ants, their mutualistic fungal cultivars and cuticular actinobacteria, and their Escovopsis parasites.
Nature communications (9) 2208
Publisher's version: 10.1038/s41467-018-04520-1
ID: 59192read more
Acromyrmex leafcutter ants form a mutually beneficial symbiosis with the fungus Leucoagaricus gongylophorus and with Pseudonocardia bacteria. Both are vertically transmitted and actively maintained by the ants. The fungus garden is manured with freshly cut leaves and provides the sole food for the ant larvae, while Pseudonocardia cultures are reared on the ant-cuticle and make antifungal metabolites to help protect the cultivar against disease. If left unchecked, specialized parasitic Escovopsis fungi can overrun the fungus garden and lead to colony collapse. We report that Escovopsis upregulates the production of two specialized metabolites when it infects the cultivar. These compounds inhibit Pseudonocardia and one, shearinine D, also reduces worker behavioral defenses and is ultimately lethal when it accumulates in ant tissues. Our results are consistent with an active evolutionary arms race between Pseudonocardia and Escovopsis, which modifies both bacterial and behavioral defenses such that colony collapse is unavoidable once Escovopsis infections escalate.
Journal of Biotechnology (265) 116-118
Publisher's version: 10.1016/j.jbiotec.2017.11.011
ID: 57889read more
Here we report the complete genome of the new species Streptomyces formicae KY5 isolated from Tetraponera fungus growing ants. S. formicae was sequenced using the PacBio and 454 platforms to generate a single linear chromosome with terminal inverted repeats. Illumina MiSeq sequencing was used to correct base changes resulting from the high error rate associated with PacBio. The genome is 9.6 Mbps, has a GC content of 71.38% and contains 8162 protein coding sequences. Predictive analysis shows this strain encodes at least 45 gene clusters for the biosynthesis of secondary metabolites, including a type 2 polyketide synthase encoding cluster for the antibacterial formicamycins. Streptomyces formicae KY5 is a new, taxonomically distinct Streptomyces species and this complete genome sequence provides an important marker in the genus of Streptomyces.
Nature communications (8) 1206
Publisher's version: 10.1038/s41467-017-01344-3
ID: 57732read more
Erythromycin, avermectin and rapamycin are clinically useful polyketide natural products produced on modular polyketide synthase multienzymes by an assembly-line process in which each module of enzymes in turn specifies attachment of a particular chemical unit. Although polyketide synthase encoding genes have been successfully engineered to produce novel analogues, the process can be relatively slow, inefficient, and frequently low-yielding. We now describe a method for rapidly recombining polyketide synthase gene clusters to replace, add or remove modules that, with high frequency, generates diverse and highly productive assembly lines. The method is exemplified in the rapamycin biosynthetic gene cluster where, in a single experiment, multiple strains were isolated producing new members of a rapamycin-related family of polyketides. The process mimics, but significantly accelerates, a plausible mechanism of natural evolution for modular polyketide synthases. Detailed sequence analysis of the recombinant genes provides unique insight into the design principles for constructing useful synthetic assembly-line multienzymes.
Microbiology (Reading, England) (163) 1415-1419
Publisher's version: 10.1099/mic.0.000524
ID: 57463read more
MtrAB is a highly conserved two-component system implicated in the regulation of cell division in the Actinobacteria. It coordinates DNA replication with cell division in the unicellular Mycobacterium tuberculosis and links antibiotic production to sporulation in the filamentous Streptomyces venezuelae. Chloramphenicol biosynthesis is directly regulated by MtrA in S. venezuelae and deletion of mtrB constitutively activates MtrA and results in constitutive over-production of chloramphenicol. Here we report that in Streptomyces coelicolor, MtrA binds to sites upstream of developmental genes and the genes encoding ActII-1, ActII-4 and RedZ, which are cluster-situated regulators of the antibiotics actinorhodin (Act) and undecylprodigiosin (Red). Consistent with this, deletion of mtrB switches on the production of Act, Red and streptorubin B, a product of the Red pathway. Thus, we propose that MtrA is a key regulator that links antibiotic production to development and can be used to upregulate antibiotic production in distantly related streptomycetes.
This book showcases research from the NRP on antibiotics and disease control. In the work presented here, scientists from the NRP collaborated with artists, writers and teachers to explore their science using the Science, Art and Writing (SAW) initiative as a vehicle for engagement (www.sawtrust.org). SAW uses themes and images from science as the starting point for scientific experimentation, art and creative writing, and in doing so stimulates creativity, scientific curiosity and discussion.
The Conserved Actinobacterial Two-Component System MtrAB Coordinates Chloramphenicol Production with Sporulation in Streptomyces venezuelae NRRL B-65442.
Frontiers in microbiology (8) 1145
Publisher's version: 10.3389/fmicb.2017.01145
ID: 56945read more
Streptomyces bacteria make numerous secondary metabolites, including half of all known antibiotics. Production of antibiotics is usually coordinated with the onset of sporulation but the cross regulation of these processes is not fully understood. This is important because most Streptomyces antibiotics are produced at low levels or not at all under laboratory conditions and this makes large scale production of these compounds very challenging. Here, we characterize the highly conserved actinobacterial two-component system MtrAB in the model organism Streptomyces venezuelae and provide evidence that it coordinates production of the antibiotic chloramphenicol with sporulation. MtrAB are known to coordinate DNA replication and cell division in Mycobacterium tuberculosis where TB-MtrA is essential for viability but MtrB is dispensable. We deleted mtrB in S. venezuelae and this resulted in a global shift in the metabolome, including constitutive, higher-level production of chloramphenicol. We found that chloramphenicol is detectable in the wild-type strain, but only at very low levels and only after it has sporulated. ChIP-seq showed that MtrA binds upstream of DNA replication and cell division genes and genes required for chloramphenicol production. dnaA, dnaN, oriC, and wblE (whiB1) are DNA binding targets for MtrA in both M. tuberculosis and S. venezuelae. Intriguingly, over-expression of TB-MtrA and gain of function TB- and Sv-MtrA proteins in S. venezuelae also switched on higher-level production of chloramphenicol. Given the conservation of MtrAB, these constructs might be useful tools for manipulating antibiotic production in other filamentous actinomycetes.
An L-threonine transaldolase is required for L-threo-ß-hydroxy-a-amino acid assembly during obafluorin biosynthesis.
Nature communications (8) 15935
Publisher's version: 10.1038/ncomms15935
ID: 56832read more
ß-Lactone natural products occur infrequently in nature but possess a variety of potent and valuable biological activities. They are commonly derived from ß-hydroxy-a-amino acids, which are themselves valuable chiral building blocks for chemical synthesis and precursors to numerous important medicines. However, despite a number of excellent synthetic methods for their asymmetric synthesis, few effective enzymatic tools exist for their preparation. Here we report cloning of the biosynthetic gene cluster for the ß-lactone antibiotic obafluorin and delineate its biosynthetic pathway. We identify a nonribosomal peptide synthetase with an unusual domain architecture and an L-threonine:4-nitrophenylacetaldehyde transaldolase responsible for (2S,3R)-2-amino-3-hydroxy-4-(4-nitrophenyl)butanoate biosynthesis. Phylogenetic analysis sheds light on the evolutionary origin of this rare enzyme family and identifies further gene clusters encoding L-threonine transaldolases. We also present preliminary data suggesting that L-threonine transaldolases might be useful for the preparation of L-threo-ß-hydroxy-a-amino acids.
Formicamycins, antibacterial polyketides produced by Streptomyces formicae isolated from African Tetraponera plant-ants
Chemical Science (8) 3218-3227
Publisher's version: 10.1039/c6sc04265a
ID: 56179read more
We report a new Streptomyces species named S. formicae that was isolated from the African fungus growing plant-ant Tetraponera penzigi and show that it produces novel pentacyclic polyketides that are active against MRSA and VRE. The chemical scaffold of these compounds, which we have called the formicamycins, is similar to the fasamycins identified from the heterologous expression of clones isolated from environmental DNA, but has significant differences that allow the scaffold to be decorated with up to four halogen atoms. We report the structures and bioactivities of 16 new molecules and show, using CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing, that biosynthesis of these compounds is encoded by a single type 2 polyketide synthase biosynthetic gene cluster in the S. formicae genome. Our work has identified the first antibiotic from the Tetraponera system and highlights the benefits of exploring unusual ecological niches for new actinomycete strains and novel natural products.
Genome Analysis of Two Pseudonocardia Phylotypes Associated with Acromyrmex Leafcutter Ants Reveals Their Biosynthetic Potential.
Frontiers in microbiology (7) 2073
Publisher's version: 10.3389/fmicb.2016.02073
ID: 55549read more
The attine ants of South and Central America are ancient farmers, having evolved a symbiosis with a fungal food crop >50 million years ago. The most evolutionarily derived attines are the Atta and Acromyrmex leafcutter ants, which harvest fresh leaves to feed their fungus. Acromyrmex and many other attines vertically transmit a mutualistic strain of Pseudonocardia and use antifungal compounds made by these bacteria to protect their fungal partner against co-evolved fungal pathogens of the genus Escovopsis. Pseudonocardia mutualists associated with the attines Apterostigma dentigerum and Trachymyrmex cornetzi make novel cyclic depsipeptide compounds called gerumycins, while a mutualist strain isolated from derived Acromyrmex octospinosus makes an unusual polyene antifungal called nystatin P1. The novelty of these antimicrobials suggests there is merit in exploring secondary metabolites of Pseudonocardia on a genome-wide scale. Here, we report a genomic analysis of the Pseudonocardia phylotypes Ps1 and Ps2 that are consistently associated with Acromyrmex ants collected in Gamboa, Panama. These were previously distinguished solely on the basis of 16S rRNA gene sequencing but genome sequencing of five Ps1 and five Ps2 strains revealed that the phylotypes are distinct species and each encodes between 11 and 15 secondary metabolite biosynthetic gene clusters (BGCs). There are signature BGCs for Ps1 and Ps2 strains and some that are conserved in both. Ps1 strains all contain BGCs encoding nystatin P1-like antifungals, while the Ps2 strains encode novel nystatin-like molecules. Strains show variations in the arrangement of these BGCs that resemble those seen in gerumycin gene clusters. Genome analyses and invasion assays support our hypothesis that vertically transmitted Ps1 and Ps2 strains have antibacterial activity that could help shape the cuticular microbiome. Thus, our work defines the Pseudonocardia species associated with Acromyrmex ants and supports the hypothesis that Pseudonocardia species could provide a valuable source of new antimicrobials.
Cell Chemical Biology (23) 1091-7
Publisher's version: 10.1016/j.chembiol.2016.07.018
ID: 55011read more
SimC7 is a polyketide ketoreductase involved in biosynthesis of the angucyclinone moiety of the gyrase inhibitor simocyclinone D8 (SD8). SimC7, which belongs to the short-chain dehydrogenase/reductase (SDR) superfamily, catalyzes reduction of the C-7 carbonyl of the angucyclinone, and the resulting hydroxyl is essential for antibiotic activity. SimC7 shares little sequence similarity with characterized ketoreductases, suggesting it might have a distinct mechanism. To investigate this possibility, we determined the structures of SimC7 alone, with NADP+, and with NADP+ and the substrate 7-oxo-SD8. These structures show that SimC7 is distinct from previously characterized polyketide ketoreductases, lacking the conserved catalytic triad, including the activesite tyrosine that acts as central acid-base catalyst in canonical SDR proteins. Taken together with functional analyses of active-site mutants, our data suggest that SimC7 catalyzes a substrate-assisted, twostep reaction for reduction of the C-7 carbonyl group involving intramolecular transfer of a substratederived proton to generate a phenolate intermediate.
Chemical Communications (52) 6383-6386
Publisher's version: 10.1039/C6CC01930G
ID: 52946read more
A growing number of natural products appear to arise from biosynthetic pathways that involve pericyclic reactions. We show here that for the heronamides this can occur via two spontaneous pathways involving alternative thermal or photochemical intramolecular cycloadditions.
Natural Product Reports (33) 120-1
Publisher's version: 10.1039/c6np90004f
ID: 56144read more
ACS Chemical Biology (10) 2468-2479
Publisher's version: 10.1021/acschembio.5b00525
ID: 52345read more
We report the identification of the biosynthetic gene cluster for the unusual antibiotic anthracimycin (atc) from the marine derived producer strain Streptomyces sp. T676 isolated off St. John’s Island, Singapore. The 53 253 bps atc locus includes a transacyltransferase (trans-AT) polyketide synthase (PKS), and heterologous expression in Streptomyces coelicolor resulted in anthracimycin production. Analysis of the atc cluster revealed that anthracimycin is likely generated by four PKS gene products AtcC−AtcF without involvement of post-PKS tailoring enzymes, and a biosynthetic pathway is proposed. The availability of the atc cluster provides a basis for investigating the biosynthesis of anthracimycin and its subsequent bioengineering to provide novel analogues with improved pharmacological properties.
Nature Chemical Biology (11) 625-31
Publisher's version: 10.1038/nchembio.1890
ID: 51847read more
A wide variety of enzymatic pathways that produce specialized metabolites in bacteria, fungi and plants are known to be encoded in biosynthetic gene clusters. Information about these clusters, pathways and metabolites is currently dispersed throughout the literature, making it difficult to exploit. To facilitate consistent and systematic deposition and retrieval of data on biosynthetic gene clusters, we propose the Minimum Information about a Biosynthetic Gene cluster (MIBiG) data standard.
Scientific Reports (5) 13160
Publisher's version: 10.1038/srep13160
ID: 52501read more
Aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases (AARSs) catalyze an early step in protein synthesis, but also regulate diverse physiological processes in animal cells. These include angiogenesis, and human threonyl-tRNA synthetase (TARS) represents a potent pro-angiogenic AARS. Angiogenesis stimulation can be blocked by the macrolide antibiotic borrelidin (BN), which exhibits a broad spectrum toxicity that has discouraged deeper investigation. Recently, a less toxic variant (BC194) was identified that potently inhibits angiogenesis. Employing biochemical, cell biological, and biophysical approaches, we demonstrate that the toxicity of BN and its derivatives is linked to its competition with the threonine substrate at the molecular level, which stimulates amino acid starvation and apoptosis. By separating toxicity from the inhibition of angiogenesis, a direct role for TARS in vascular development in the zebrafish could be demonstrated. Bioengineered natural products are thus useful tools in unmasking the cryptic functions of conventional enzymes in the regulation of complex processes in higher metazoans.
SimC7 is a novel NAD(P)H-dependent ketoreductase essential for the antibiotic activity of the DNA gyrase inhibitor simocyclinone.
Journal of Molecular Biology (427) 2192-2204
Publisher's version: 10.1016/j.jmb.2015.03.019
ID: 49413read more
Simocyclinone D8 (SD8) is a potent DNA gyrase inhibitor produced by Streptomyces antibioticus Tü6040. The simocyclinone (sim) biosynthetic gene cluster has been sequenced and a hypothetical biosynthetic pathway proposed. The tetraene linker in SD8 was suggested to be the product of a modular type I polyketide synthase (PKS) working in trans with two monofunctional enzymes. One of these monofunctional enzymes, SimC7, was proposed to supply a dehydratase activity missing from two modules of the PKS. In this study, we report the function of SimC7. We isolated the entire ~72 kb sim cluster on a single phage artificial chromosome (PAC) clone and produced simocyclinone heterologously in a Streptomyces coelicolor strain engineered for improved antibiotic production. Deletion of simC7 resulted in the production of a novel simocyclinone, 7-oxo-SD8, which unexpectedly carried a normal tetraene linker but was altered in the angucyclinone moiety. We demonstrate that SimC7 is an NAD(P)H-dependent ketoreductase that catalyses the conversion of 7-oxo-SD8 into SD8. 7-oxo-SD8 was essentially inactive as a DNA gyrase inhibitor, and the reduction of the keto group by SimC7 was shown to be crucial for high affinity binding to the enzyme. Thus SimC7 is an angucyclinone ketoreductase that is essential for the biological activity of simocyclinone.
Chemical Science (6) 2885-2892
Publisher's version: 10.1039/c5sc00164a
ID: 52502read more
The methylation of natural products by S-adenosyl methionine (AdoMet, also known as SAM)-dependent methyltransferase enzymes is a common tailoring step in many biosynthetic pathways. The introduction of methyl substituents can affect the biological and physicochemical properties of the secondary metabolites produced. Recently it has become apparent that some AdoMet-dependent methyltransferases exhibit promiscuity and will accept AdoMet analogues enabling the transfer of alternative alkyl groups. In this study we have characterised a methyltransferase, RapM, which is involved in the biosynthesis of the potent immunosuppressive agent rapamycin. We have shown that recombinant RapM regioselectively methylates the C16 hydroxyl group of desmethyl rapamycin precursors in vitro and is promiscuous in accepting alternative co-factors in addition to AdoMet. A coupled enzyme system was developed, including a mutant human enzyme methionine adenosyl transferase (MAT), along with RapM, which was used to prepare alkylated rapamycin derivatives (rapalogs) with alternative ethyl and allyl ether groups, derived from simple S-ethyl or S-allyl methionine analogues. There are two other methyltransferases RapI and RapQ which provide methyl substituents of rapamycin. Consequently, using the enzymatic approach described here, it should be possible to generate a diverse array of alkylated rapalogs, with altered properties, that would be difficult to obtain by traditional synthetic approaches.
Bioengineering and semisynthesis of an optimized cyclophilin inhibitor for treatment of chronic viral infection.
Chemistry & Biology (22) 285-92
Publisher's version: 10.1016/j.chembiol.2014.10.023
ID: 49599read more
Inhibition of host-encoded targets, such as the cyclophilins, provides an opportunity to generate potent high barrier to resistance antivirals for the treatment of a broad range of viral diseases. However, many host-targeted agents are natural products, which can be difficult to optimize using synthetic chemistry alone. We describe the orthogonal combination of bioengineering and semisynthetic chemistry to optimize the drug-like properties of sanglifehrin A, a known cyclophilin inhibitor of mixed nonribosomal peptide/polyketide origin, to generate the drug candidate NVP018 (formerly BC556). NVP018 is a potent inhibitor of hepatitis B virus, hepatitis C virus (HCV), and HIV-1 replication, shows minimal inhibition of major drug transporters, and has a high barrier to generation of both HCV and HIV-1 resistance.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (111) E5508-17
Publisher's version: 10.1073/pnas.1405994111
ID: 49600read more
Malaria remains a major global health problem. Emerging resistance to existing antimalarial drugs drives the search for new antimalarials, and protein translation is a promising pathway to target. Here we explore the potential of the aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase (ARS) family as a source of antimalarial drug targets. First, a battery of known and novel ARS inhibitors was tested against Plasmodium falciparum cultures, and their activities were compared. Borrelidin, a natural inhibitor of threonyl-tRNA synthetase (ThrRS), stands out for its potent antimalarial effect. However, it also inhibits human ThrRS and is highly toxic to human cells. To circumvent this problem, we tested a library of bioengineered and semisynthetic borrelidin analogs for their antimalarial activity and toxicity. We found that some analogs effectively lose their toxicity against human cells while retaining a potent antiparasitic activity both in vitro and in vivo and cleared malaria from Plasmodium yoelii-infected mice, resulting in 100% mice survival rates. Our work identifies borrelidin analogs as potent, selective, and unexplored scaffolds that efficiently clear malaria both in vitro and in vivo.
Uncovering the origin of Z-configured double bonds in polyketides: intermediate E-double bond formation during borrelidin biosynthesis
Chemical Science (5) 3563-3567
Publisher's version: 10.1039/c4sc00883a
ID: 48328read more
Formation of Z-configured double bonds in reduced polyketides is uncommon and their origins have not been extensively studied. To investigate the origin of the Z-configured double bond in the macrolide borrelidin, the recombinant dehydratase domains BorDH2 and BorDH3 were assayed with a synthetic analogue of the predicted tetraketide substrate. The configuration of the dehydrated products was determined to be E in both cases by comparison to synthetic standards. Detailed NMR spectroscopic analysis of the biosynthetic intermediate pre-borrelidin confirmed the E,E-configuration of the full-length polyketide synthase product. In contrast to a previously-proposed hypothesis, our results show that in this case the Z-configured double bond is not formed via dehydration from a 3 L-configured precursor, but rather as the result of a later isomerization process.