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J Nat Prod. 2002 Dec;65(12):1956-62.

Plant-like biosynthetic pathways in bacteria: from benzoic acid to chalcone.

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  • 1Division of Medicinal Chemistry, College of Pharmacy, P.O. Box 210207, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA.


Although phenylpropanoids and flavonoids are common plant natural products, these major classes of biologically active secondary metabolites are largely absent from bacteria. The ubiquitous plant enzymes phenylalanine ammonia-lyase (PAL) and chalcone synthase (CHS) are key biosynthetic catalysts in phenylpropanoid and flavonoid assembly, respectively. Until recently, few bacterial counterparts were known, thus reflecting the dearth of these plant natural products in bacteria. This review highlights our progress on the biochemical and genetic characterization of recently identified streptomycete biosynthetic pathways to benzoic acid and type III polyketide synthase (PKS)-derived products. The sediment-derived bacterium "Streptomyces maritimus" produces benzoyl-CoA in a plant-like manner from phenylalanine involving a PAL-mediated reaction through cinnamic acid during the biosynthesis of the polyketide antibiotic enterocin. All but one of the genes encoding benzoyl-CoA biosynthesis in "S. maritimus" have been cloned, sequenced, and inactivated, providing a model for benzoate biosynthesis not only in this bacterium, but in plants where benzoic acid is an important constituent of many products. The recent discovery that bacteria harbor homodimeric PKSs belonging to the plant CHS superfamily of condensing enzymes has further linked the biosynthetic capabilities of plants and bacteria. A bioinformatics approach led to the prediction that the model actinomycete Streptomyces coelicolor A3(2) contains up to three type III PKSs. Biochemical analysis of one of the recombinant type III PKSs from S. coelicolor demonstrated activity as a 1,3,6,8-tetrahydroxynaphthalene synthase (THNS). A homology model of THNS based upon the known three-dimensional structure of CHS was constructed to explore the structural and mechanistic details of this new subclass of bacterial PKSs.

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