Hidden antibiotics in actinomycetes can be identified by inactivation of gene clusters for common antibiotics
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Actinobacteria, which are one of the largest bacterial phyla and comprise between 13 and 30% of the soil microbiota, are the main source of antibiotic classes in clinical use1. During screens for antimicrobials, as many as 50% of actinomycete strains are discarded because they produce a known antibiotic (Supplementary Fig. 1) (ref. 2). Despite each strain likely having the capacity to produce many compounds, strains are abandoned because the already characterized antibiotic could interfere with screening for, or purification of, newly discovered compounds3. We applied CRISPR-Cas9 genome engineering to knockout genes encoding two of the most frequently rediscovered antibiotics, streptothricin or streptomycin, in 11 actinomycete strains. We report that this simple approach led to production of different antibiotics that were otherwise masked. We were able to rapidly discover rare and previously unknown variants of antibiotics including thiolactomycin, amicetin, phenanthroviridin and 5-chloro-3-formylindole. This strategy could be applied to existing strain collections to realize their biosynthetic potential.
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