Nav: Home

Fungi -- a promising source of chemical diversity

May 27, 2016

The fungus Aspergillus fumigatus produces a group of previously unknown natural products. With reference to plant isoquinoline alkaloids, these substances have been named fumisoquins. Researchers from Jena (Germany) discovered the novel substances together with their American colleagues while studying the fungal genome. The family of isoquinoline alkaloids contains many pharmacologically active molecules. This study, which has just been published in Nature Chemical Biology, shows that fungi and plants developed biosynthetic pathways for these complex molecules independently of each other. These findings make Aspergillus an interesting target for the discovery of novel drugs and their biotechnological production.

A large number of drugs used today originate from nature. Most of these molecules, which can be found with or without synthetic modifications and exert their beneficial effect on human health, are derived from microorganisms or plants. Thus, it is of great interest to discover novel active compounds in nature and use them for the treatment of diseases.

One well-known group of plant metabolites are the isoquinoline alkaloids. Today more than 2,500 different types are known and they are mainly found in poppy and barberry plants. Famous examples include the painkiller morphine or the cough remedy codein.

Together with colleagues from the US, scientists in the labs of Dirk Hoffmeister and Axel Brakhage at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena found out that fungi synthesize certain natural products in a very similar way to plants. They analyzed the genome of the common mold Aspergillus and discovered a small cluster of genes whose function was previously unknown. Comparing these genetic sequences with known data implied that they might be responsible for the synthesis of novel natural products.

By manipulating the genetic sequences, characterizing the resulting metabolites and using radioactive labeling experiments it was possible to elucidate the structure of the novel molecules and to unravel the detailed biosynthetic pathways. The researchers discovered a new linkage mechanism for carbon atoms which had never been seen before in fungi. The whole fumisoquin biosynthetic pathway appears to be a combination of plant biosynthetic principles and the non-ribosomal peptide synthetases commonly found in fungi.

Axel Brakhage, university professor and head of the Leibniz Institute for Natural Product Research and Infection Biology, explains: "Fungi and plants diverged early on during evolution. The newly discovered fumisoquin synthesis pathway shows that there was a parallel development for the production of isoquinoline alkaloid compounds in both groups of organisms. This opens up new roads for combinatorial biotechnology in order to advance the search for novel active compounds and thus to develop urgently needed new drugs."

Dirk Hoffmeister, professor at the Institute for Pharmacy at Friedrich Schiller University, is pleased with the joint efforts: "The published study is a great example of the tight collaboration between the university and the Leibniz Institute for Natural Product Research and Infection Biology - Hans Knöll Institute - and our American partners. Good research does not know any borders."

The international scientific association "Faculty of 1000" included this publication in their hit list of seminal research results.

-end-



Friedrich-Schiller-Universitaet Jena
A close look into the barley genome
An international consortium, with the participation of the Helmholtz Zentrum München, Plant Genome and Systems Biology Department (PGSB), has published methodologically significant data on the barley genome.
Barley genome sequenced
Looking for a better beer or single malt Scotch whiskey?
From Genome Research: Pathogen demonstrates genome flexibility in cystic fibrosis
Chronic lung infections can be devastating for patients with cystic fibrosis (CF), and infection by Burkholderia cenocepacia, one of the most common species found in cystic fibrosis patients, is often antibiotic resistant.
A three-dimensional map of the genome
Cells face a daunting task. They have to neatly pack a several meter-long thread of genetic material into a nucleus that measures only five micrometers across.
Rhino genome results
A study by San Diego Zoo Global reveals that the prospects for recovery of the critically endangered northern white rhinoceros -- of which only three individuals remain -- will reside with the genetic resources that have been banked at San Diego Zoo Global's Frozen Zoo®.
Science and legal experts debate future uses and impact of human genome editing in Gender & the Genome
Precise, economical genome editing tools such as CRISPR have made it possible to make targeted changes in genes, which could be applied to human embryos to correct mutations, prevent disease, or alter traits.
Genome: It's all about architecture
How do pathogens such as bacteria or parasites manage to hide from their host's immune system?
Accelerating genome analysis
An international team of scientists, led by researchers from A*STAR's Genome Institute of Singapore and the Bioinformatics Institute, have developed SIFT 4G (SIFT for Genomes) -- a software that can lead to faster genome analysis.
Packaging and unpacking of the genome
Single-cell techniques have been used to investigate histone replacement and chromatin remodeling in developing oocytes.
The astounding genome of the dinoflagellate
Dinoflagellates live free-floating in the ocean or symbiotically with corals, serving up -- or as -- lunch to a host of mollusks, tiny fish and coral species.

Best Science Podcasts 2017

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2017. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.

Now Playing: Radiolab

Truth Trolls
Today, a third story of folks relentlessly searching for the truth. But this time, the truth seekers are an unlikely bunch... internet trolls.


Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Rethinking School
For most of modern history, humans have placed smaller humans in institutions called schools. But what parts of this model still work? And what must change? This hour, TED speakers rethink education.TED speakers include teacher Tyler DeWitt, social entrepreneur Sal Khan, international education expert Andreas Schleicher, and educator Linda Cliatt-Wayman.