Fungi produce a number of natural products. Some are potent toxins, like the amanitins primarily responsible for the toxicity of the death cap fungus. Others are life-saving drugs such as penicillin. Because of that diversity, the genetics of fungi have generated much interest in recent years.
Many fungi have a wealth of genes encoding for far more natural products than they actually produce, says Robert Cichewicz and colleagues at the University of Oklahoma, Norman. The explanation is thought to be that when fungi do not need certain compounds, they inhibit the transcription of the DNA that codes for the proteins that make them, preventing their biosynthesis.
Knowing what these mystery compounds are could be very important for the development of new medicines, as well as for helping us to understand the ecological roles that fungi play, he says.
In a new study published in Organic & Biomolecular Chemistry they have shown that metabolic pathways that are normally ‘silent’ can be re-activated to make new compounds.
The DNA involved is inhibited by being scrunched up in a globular form called heterochromatin. To activate this DNA and turn on these ‘silent’ natural product pathways, the team decided to treat fungal cultures with small molecules that interfere with the formation of the heterochromatin – allowing the DNA to be transcripted.
To show their idea in action, the researchers took a culture of Cladosporium cladosporioides, a tidal pool fungus, and treated it separately with 5-azacytidine and suberoylanilide hydroxamic acid. Both treatments, says Cichewicz, dramatically changed the natural product output of the fungus, with two completely new natural products being isolated.
The new approach impresses Jon Clardy at the Harvard Medical School, Boston, US, who says that it could ‘greatly expand the suite of biologically active small molecules obtained from fungi’ and that it ‘capitalises on recent developments in drug discovery to increase the odds of discovering new drugs’.
The results also have important implications for research into fungi and other microorganisms, explains Cichewicz. Natural products are the means by which fungi ‘communicate’ with organisms around them, so we are in essence, he says, ‘discovering chemical means for listening to what fungi are saying’.
Article: Russell Williams et al., Org. Biomol. Chem., 2008, DOI: 10.1039/b804701d
- PHYSICAL SCIENCES
- EARTH SCIENCES
- LIFE SCIENCES
- SOCIAL SCIENCES
Subscribe to the newsletter
Stay in touch with the scientific world!
Know Science And Want To Write?
- Supertranslations And Eternal Ghosts: Black Holes No Closer To Being Understood
- Bel's Temple in Palmyra Is No More
- If Happy Meal Law Passes, NYC Kids Will Frown
- Blade Runner: The Science In The Fiction
- Highlights From ICNFP 2015
- Could A Star Orbit A Planet? - Just For Fun
- Is Smokeless Tobacco More Harmful Than Believed?
- "I wrote an article about this just today - why I think AI should not have emotions - and only very..."
- "Had they annihilated the Colosseum in Rome (as opposed to the local cinema) would you have taken..."
- "There are no Black Holes because the very space-time concept has been proved to be baseless in..."
- "When you account for the following factors, such discrepancies disappear:-Men are more aggressive..."
- "The wavelength of the exiting radiation from the iguana asymptotically becomes zero, so I can't..."
- Not All Expensive Drugs Are Equal
- Conundrum Confronts DCIS Breast Cancer Patients
- Germany Rightly Skewered for GMO Nonsense; Kudos for WSJ
- Expect Only Frowns if Silly Happy Meal Law Passes
- “Shock Therapy” – Not a Cuckoo’s Nest, a Valid Depression Rx
- Innate: Simplot genetically engineered potato gets USDA nod for deregulation
- Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider confirms tiny drops of early universe 'perfect' fluid
- Magnetic fields provide a new way to communicate wirelessly
- With tobacco, what you don't know can kill you sooner
- Isthminia panamensis: New species of ancient river dolphin discovered
- Smoking prevalence stays the same but people who want to quit are up