The traditional natural product discovery approach has accessed only a fraction of the chemical diversity in nature. The use of bioinformatic tools to interpret the instructions encoded in microbial biosynthetic genes has the potential to circumvent the existing methodological bottlenecks and greatly expand the scope of discovery. Structural prediction algorithms for nonribosomal peptides (NRPs), the largest family of microbial natural products, lie at the heart of this new approach. To understand the scope and limitation of the existing prediction algorithms, we evaluated their performances on NRP synthetase biosynthetic gene clusters. Our systematic analysis shows that the NRP biosynthetic landscape is uneven. Phenylglycine and its derivatives as a group of NRP building blocks (BBs), for example, have been oversampled, reflecting an extensive historical interest in the glycopeptide antibiotics family. In contrast, the benzoyl BB, including 2,3-dihydroxybenzoate (DHB), has been the most underexplored, hinting at the possibility of a reservoir of as yet unknown DHB containing NRPs with functional roles other than a siderophore. Our results also suggest that there is still vast unexplored biosynthetic diversity in nature, and the analysis presented herein shall help guide and strategize future natural product discovery campaigns. We also discuss possible ways bioinformaticians and biochemists could work together to improve the existing prediction algorithms.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Medicine