Catalytic promiscuity in the biosynthesis of cyclic peptide secondary metabolites in planktonic marine cyanobacteria

Bo Li, Daniel Sher, Libusha Kelly, Yanxiang Shi, Katherine Huang, Patrick J. Knerr, Ike Joewono, Doug Rusch, Sallie W. Chisholm, Wilfred A. Van Der Donk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Our understanding of secondary metabolite production in bacteria has been shaped primarily by studies of attached varieties such as symbionts, pathogens, and soil bacteria. Here we show that a strain of the single-celled, planktonic marine cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus - which conducts a sizable fraction of photosynthesis in the oceans - produces many cyclic, lanthionine-containing peptides (lantipeptides). Remarkably, in Prochlorococcus MIT9313 a single promiscuous enzyme transforms up to 29 different linear ribosomally synthesized peptides into a library of polycyclic, conformationally constrained products with highly diverse ring topologies. Genes encoding this system are found in variable abundances across the oceans - with a hot spot in a Galapagos hypersaline lagoon - suggesting they play a habitat- and/or community-specific role. The extraordinarily efficient pathway for generating structural diversity enables these cyanobacteria to produce as many secondary metabolites as model antibiotic-producing bacteria, but with much smaller genomes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10430-10435
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number23
StatePublished - 8 Jun 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Combinatorial biosynthesis
  • Global ocean survey metagenome
  • Lantibiotic
  • Synechococcus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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