The genomes of medicinal skullcaps reveal the polyphyletic origins of clerodane diterpene biosynthesis in the family Lamiaceae.
The presence of anticancer clerodane diterpenoids is a chemotaxonomic marker for the traditional Chinese medicinal plant Scutellaria barbata, although the molecular mechanisms behind clerodane biosynthesis are unknown. Here, we report a high-quality assembly of the 414.98 Mb genome of S. barbata into 13 pseudochromosomes. Using phylogenomic and biochemical data, we mapped the plastidial metabolism of kaurene (gibberellins), abietane, and clerodane diterpenes in three species of the family Lamiaceae (Scutellaria barbata, Scutellaria baicalensis, and Salvia splendens), facilitating the identification of genes involved in the biosynthesis of the clerodanes, kolavenol, and isokolavenol. We show that clerodane biosynthesis evolved through recruitment and neofunctionalization of genes from gibberellin and abietane metabolism. Despite the assumed monophyletic origin of clerodane biosynthesis, which is widespread in species of the Lamiaceae, our data show distinct evolutionary lineages and suggest polyphyletic origins of clerodane biosynthesis in the family Lamiaceae. Our study not only provides significant insights into the evolution of clerodane biosynthetic pathways in the mint family, Lamiaceae, but also will facilitate the production of anticancer clerodanes through future metabolic engineering efforts.