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Trends Genet. 2010 Oct;26(10):449-57. doi: 10.1016/j.tig.2010.07.001. Epub 2010 Aug 24.

Secondary metabolic gene clusters: evolutionary toolkits for chemical innovation.

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Department of Metabolic Biology, John Innes Centre, Norwich NR4 7UH, UK.


Microbes and plants produce a huge array of secondary metabolites that have important ecological functions. These molecules have long been exploited in medicine as antibiotics, anticancer and anti-infective agents and for a wide range of other applications. Gene clusters for secondary metabolic pathways are common in bacteria and filamentous fungi, and examples have now been discovered in plants. Here, current knowledge of gene clusters across the kingdoms is evaluated with the aim of trying to understand the rules behind cluster existence and evolution. Such knowledge will be crucial in learning how to activate the enormous number of 'silent' gene clusters being revealed by whole-genome sequencing and hence in making available a wealth of novel compounds for evaluation as drug leads and other bioactives. It could also facilitate the development of crop plants with enhanced pest or disease resistance, improved nutritional qualities and/or elevated levels of high-value products.

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