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Beyond the assembly line - showcasing the complexities of fungal natural product biosynthesis

© Dr_Microbe / Getty Images / iStockMetaphors have long been used by scientists to summarise or visualise complex biological processes.

In the field of natural product biosynthesis, one of the most common metaphors is that of the ‘assembly line’, conjuring up an appealing image of a developing molecule moving from enzyme to enzyme, being modified by each in a particular sequence. This metaphor was originally applied to the archetypal bacterial megasynthase enzymes involved in polyketide and non-ribosomal peptide biosynthesis. These large synthases are modular in nature, with each module being responsible for incorporating one ‘building block’ – either acyl units or amino acids respectively - into the growing molecule. The assembly line metaphor has often been expanded to take in full natural product pathways; once the megasynthase has produced the core scaffold, that scaffold then moves from one tailoring enzyme to another, decorating the molecule until the final product is achieved. Although the assembly line metaphor is elegant - and in many cases perfectly representative - such popular metaphors run the risk of limiting the way we imagine complex systems. In fungal natural product biosynthesis, for example, megasynthases are frequently iterative rather than modular, with complex and cryptic programming controlling the details of biosynthesis. Additional complexities arise through the roles of trans-acting enzymes, multifunctional enzymes, incorporation of unusual starter units or building blocks, and complex branching or converging pathways. In this special collection, we aim to capture that complexity in all its splendour, and welcome potential authors to contribute review articles or research papers.

Papers of interest for the special collection could include examples of the following:

  • Programming of megasynthases.
  • Unusual starter units or building blocks.
  • Multi-functional enzymes.
  • Trans-acting enzymes.
  • Branching or converging pathways.
  • Compartmentalisation.
  • Bioinformatic advances which specifically aid fungal natural product research.

Open for submissions until March 2022. Guest edited by Kate de Mattos-Shipley, University of Bristol, UK, and Katherine Williams, University of Bristol, UK

  1. Fungi are prolific producers of secondary metabolites (SMs), which are bioactive small molecules with important applications in medicine, agriculture and other industries. The backbones of a large proportion o...

    Authors: Cameron L. M. Gilchrist and Yit-Heng Chooi

    Citation: Fungal Biology and Biotechnology 2021 8:13

    Content type: Research

    Published on: