Scientists found out genes involved in a compound in lichens with antiviral activity

December 11, 2020

An international study led by researchers from the Faculty of Pharmacy at the Complutense University of Madrid has identified a series of biosynthetic genes involved in the production of usnic acid in lichen, a compound showing antiviral, antioxidant, neuroprotective, antibacterial and anticancer activity.

Not all lichens --composite organisms resulting from the symbiosis of fungi and green algae or cyanobacteria-- produce this compound, and this study, published in Genome Biology and Evolution, has revealed why there is a loss of specific biosynthetic genes in non-producing species.

"Identifying the genes involved in the biosynthesis of these compounds is essential for future studies that require their isolation and mass production; similarly, the genomic approach adopted in this study has helped us identify new biosynthetic genes (PKS) of as yet unknown compounds that may be of pharmacological interest", explained David Pizarro, the first author of the study and a researcher in the Department of Pharmacology, Pharmacognosy and Botany at the UCM.

To carry out this study, researchers sequenced the genomes of 40 lichen species that produce and do not produce usnic acid.

"The genomes were assembled, annotated and compared using bioinformatics tools and computational biology, and we also analysed the diversity of lichen compounds using chromatography", Pizarro added.

New family with unknown function

This study also identified and described a new family of biosynthetic genes (PKS) with an unknown function that may be specific to lichens.

"We identified numerous clusters of biosynthetic genes of unknown function, some of which are homologous to other genes involved in the biosynthesis of antibiotics and tox-ins, thus opening a novel avenue of research into new molecules in the pharmaceutical industry", reported Pradeep Divakar, another researcher in the Department of Pharma-cology, Pharmacognosy and Botany.

Lichens are of great ecological importance. They have been widely used as bio-indicators of air pollution and other factors because of their high sensitivity to environmental changes, they form the basis of the food chain in specialised ecosystems and they are also an important nest-building resource for birds due to the antibacterial and antifungal activity of their secondary compounds.

"Another important function of lichens relates to soil formation, since they can prevent soil erosion and help maintain moisture, facilitating the establishment of vascular plants", concluded Pizarro.
In addition to the UCM, the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago and the Senck-enberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre in Frankfurt also participated in the study.

References: David Pizarro, Pradeep K Divakar, Felix Grewe, Ana Crespo, Francesco Dal Grande, Helge Thorsten Lumbsch. "Genome-Wide Analysis of Biosynthetic Gene Cluster Reveals Correlated Gene Loss with Absence of Usnic Acid in Lichen-Forming Fungi".
Genome Biology and Evolution 2020.

Universidad Complutense de Madrid

Related Genomes Articles from Brightsurf:

New wheat and barley genomes will help feed the world
An international research collaboration, including scientists from the University of Adelaide's Waite Research Institute, has unlocked new genetic variation in wheat and barley - a major boost for the global effort in breeding higher-yielding wheat and barley varieties.

Uncovering novel genomes from earth's microbiomes
As reported in Nature Biotechnology, the known diversity of bacteria and archaea has been expanded by 44% through a publicly available collection of more than 52,000 microbial genomes from environmental samples, resulting from a JGI-led collaboration involving more than 200 scientists (the IMG Data Consortium) around the world.

Researchers map genomes of agricultural monsters
The University of Cincinnati is unlocking the genomes of creepy agricultural pests like screwworms that feast on livestock from the inside out and thrips that transmit viruses to plants.

A new assembler for decoding genomes of microbial communities developed
The metaFlye assembler is designed to assemble DNA samples from microbial communities.

Unlocking the secrets of plant genomes in high resolution
Resolving genomes, particularly plant genomes, is a very complex and error-prone task.

Genomes published for major agricultural weeds
Representing some of the most troublesome agricultural weeds, waterhemp, smooth pigweed, and Palmer amaranth impact crop production systems across the US and elsewhere with ripple effects felt by economies worldwide.

ENCODE3: Interpreting the human and mouse genomes
An international consortium of approximately 500 scientists, led in part by researchers at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, reports on the completion of Phase 3 of the ENCODE project, providing a resource for scientists to understand how genetic variation shapes human health and disease.

MetaviralSPAdes -- New assembler for virus genomes
There was no specialized viral metagenome assembler until recently. But the joint team of Russian and US researchers from Saint-Petersburg State University and University of California at San Diego just released the metaviralSPAdes assembler (published in journal Bioinformatics on May 16) that turns the analysis of the metavirome sequencing results into an easy task.

Eleven human genomes in nine days
UC Santa Cruz researchers are helping drive advances in human genome assembly to make the process better, faster, and cheaper.

Hornwort genomes could lead to crop improvement
Fay-Wei Li from the Boyce Thompson Institute and researchers from across the globe sequenced the genomes of three hornworts, illuminating the dawn of land plants.

Read More: Genomes News and Genomes Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to