Biosynthesis of Natural Products

A non-ribosomal peptide made by Streptomyces calvus

It is estimated that less than 1% of all soil dwelling bacteria have been characterized. This is a humbling figure, particularly for a chemist, when one considers the vast number of natural products that are synthesized by these organisms. These molecules have a myriad of bioactivities, including anticancer and antibacterial, which frequently lead to new drugs. In fact the majority of antibiotics used today, such as vancomycin and penicillin, are derived from natural products produced by microorganisms. In this program we use microbial DNA sequence data to identify ‘clusters’ of genes encoding biosynthetic pathways. In addition to finding new bioactive molecules, a genomic driven approach also provides an opportunity to discover novel biosynthetic enzymes, as well as genetically engineer these pathways to produce modified molecules with improved drug-like activity.