Exploring the chemistry of uncultivated bacterial symbionts: antitumor polyketides of the pederin family

J Nat Prod. 2005 Mar;68(3):472-9. doi: 10.1021/np049612d.


Symbiotic bacteria have long been proposed as being responsible for the production of numerous natural products isolated from invertebrate animals. However, systematic studies of invertebrate-symbiont associations are usually associated with serious technical challenges, such as the general resistance of symbionts to culturing attempts and the complexity of many microbial consortia. Herein an overview is provided on the culture-independent, metagenomic strategies recently employed by our group to contribute to a better understanding of natural product symbiosis. Using terrestrial Paederus spp. beetles and the marine sponge Theonella swinhoei as model animals, the putative genes responsible for the production of pederin-type antitumor polyketides have been isolated. In Paederus fuscipes, which uses pederin for chemical defense, these genes belong to an as-yet unculturable symbiont closely related to Pseudomonas aeruginosa. To study the extremely complex association of T. swinhoei and its multispecies bacterial consortium, we used a phylogenetic approach that allowed the isolation of onnamide/theopederin polyketide synthase genes from an uncultured sponge symbiont. Analysis of the biosynthesis genes provided unexpected insights into a possible evolution of pederin-type pathways. Besides revealing new facets of invertebrate chemical ecology, these first gene clusters from uncultivated symbiotic producers suggest possible biotechnological strategies to solve the supply problem associated with the development of most marine drug candidates.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / chemistry*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Bacteria*
  • Coleoptera / enzymology
  • Coleoptera / genetics
  • Coleoptera / microbiology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Polyketide Synthases / metabolism
  • Pyrans / chemistry*
  • Pyrans / pharmacology*
  • Symbiosis
  • Theonella / enzymology
  • Theonella / genetics
  • Theonella / microbiology*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Pyrans
  • Polyketide Synthases
  • pederin