Nonribosomal peptides and polyketides are a diverse group of natural products with complex chemical structures and enormous pharmaceutical potential. They are synthesized on modular nonribosomal peptide synthetase (NRPS) and polyketide synthase (PKS) enzyme complexes by a conserved thiotemplate mechanism. Here, we report the widespread occurrence of NRPS and PKS genetic machinery across the three domains of life with the discovery of 3,339 gene clusters from 991 organisms, by examining a total of 2,699 genomes. These gene clusters display extraordinarily diverse organizations, and a total of 1,147 hybrid NRPS/PKS clusters were found. Surprisingly, 10% of bacterial gene clusters lacked modular organization, and instead catalytic domains were mostly encoded as separate proteins. The finding of common occurrence of nonmodular NRPS differs substantially from the current classification. Sequence analysis indicates that the evolution of NRPS machineries was driven by a combination of common descent and horizontal gene transfer. We identified related siderophore NRPS gene clusters that encoded modular and nonmodular NRPS enzymes organized in a gradient. A higher frequency of the NRPS and PKS gene clusters was detected from bacteria compared with archaea or eukarya. They commonly occurred in the phyla of Proteobacteria, Actinobacteria, Firmicutes, and Cyanobacteria in bacteria and the phylum of Ascomycota in fungi. The majority of these NRPS and PKS gene clusters have unknown end products highlighting the power of genome mining in identifying novel genetic machinery for the biosynthesis of secondary metabolites.
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