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

Related Genome Articles:

Deciphering the walnut genome
New research could provide a major boost to the state's growing $1.6 billion walnut industry by making it easier to breed walnut trees better equipped to combat the soil-borne pathogens that now plague many of California's 4,800 growers.
Illuminating the genome
Development of a new molecular visualisation method, RNA-guided endonuclease -- in situ labelling (RGEN-ISL) for the CRISPR/Cas9-mediated labelling of genomic sequences in nuclei and chromosomes.
A genome under influence
References form the basis of our comprehension of the world: they enable us to measure the height of our children or the efficiency of a drug.
How a virus destabilizes the genome
New insights into how Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV) induces genome instability and promotes cell proliferation could lead to the development of novel antiviral therapies for KSHV-associated cancers, according to a study published Sept.
Better genome editing
Reich Group researchers develop a more efficient and precise method of in-cell genome editing.
More Genome News and Genome Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Rethinking Anger
Anger is universal and complex: it can be quiet, festering, justified, vengeful, and destructive. This hour, TED speakers explore the many sides of anger, why we need it, and who's allowed to feel it. Guests include psychologists Ryan Martin and Russell Kolts, writer Soraya Chemaly, former talk radio host Lisa Fritsch, and business professor Dan Moshavi.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#537 Science Journalism, Hold the Hype
Everyone's seen a piece of science getting over-exaggerated in the media. Most people would be quick to blame journalists and big media for getting in wrong. In many cases, you'd be right. But there's other sources of hype in science journalism. and one of them can be found in the humble, and little-known press release. We're talking with Chris Chambers about doing science about science journalism, and where the hype creeps in. Related links: The association between exaggeration in health related science news and academic press releases: retrospective observational study Claims of causality in health news: a randomised trial This...