Highlights of Streptomyces genetics.


Department of Molecular Microbiology, John Innes Centre, Colney Lane, Norwich, NR5 7UH, UK. [Email]


Sixty years ago, the actinomycetes, which include members of the genus Streptomyces, with their bacterial cellular dimensions but a mycelial growth habit like fungi, were generally regarded as a possible intermediate group, and virtually nothing was known about their genetics. We now know that they are bacteria, but with many original features. Their genome is linear with a unique mode of replication, not circular like those of nearly all other bacteria. They transfer their chromosome from donor to recipient by a conjugation mechanism, but this is radically different from the E. coli paradigm. They have twice as many genes as a typical rod-shaped bacterium like Escherichia coli or Bacillus subtilis, and the genome typically carries 20 or more gene clusters encoding the biosynthesis of antibiotics and other specialised metabolites, only a small proportion of which are expressed under typical laboratory screening conditions. This means that there is a vast number of potentially valuable compounds to be discovered when these 'sleeping' genes are activated. Streptomyces genetics has revolutionised natural product chemistry by facilitating the analysis of novel biosynthetic steps and has led to the ability to engineer novel biosynthetic pathways and hence 'unnatural natural products', with potential to generate lead compounds for use in the struggle to combat the rise of antimicrobial resistance.

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