Discovery and biosynthesis of the cytotoxic polyene terpenomycin in human pathogenic Nocardia.
Nocardia are opportunistic human pathogens that can cause a range of debilitating and difficult to treat infections of the lungs, brain, skin, and soft tissues. Despite their close relationship to the well-known secondary metabolite-producing genus, Streptomyces, comparatively few natural products are known from the Nocardia, and even less is known about their involvement in the pathogenesis. Here, we combine chemistry, genomics, and molecular microbiology to reveal the production of terpenomycin, a new cytotoxic and antifungal polyene from a human pathogenic Nocardia terpenica isolate. We unveil the polyketide synthase (PKS) responsible for terpenomycin biosynthesis and show that it combines several unusual features, including "split", skipped, and iteratively used modules, and the use of the unusual extender unit methoxymalonate as a starter unit. To link genes to molecules, we constructed a transposon mutant library in N. terpenica, identifying a terpenomycin-null mutant with an inactivated terpenomycin PKS. Our findings show that the neglected actinomycetes have an unappreciated capacity for the production of bioactive molecules with unique biosynthetic pathways waiting to be uncovered and highlights these organisms as producers of diverse natural products.