The evolutionary role of secondary metabolites--a review

Gene. 1992 Jun 15;115(1-2):151-7. doi: 10.1016/0378-1119(92)90553-2.


It is argued that organisms have evolved the ability to biosynthesise secondary metabolites ('natural products') due to the selectional advantages they obtain as a result of the functions of the compounds. Pleiotropic switching, the simultaneous expression of sporulation and antibiotic biosynthesis genes in Streptomyces, is interpreted in terms of the defense roles of antibiotics. The clustering together of antibiotic biosynthesis, regulation, and resistance genes, and in particular the staggering complexity shown in the case of the gene cluster for erythromycin A biosynthesis, implies that these genes have been selected as a group and that the antibiotics function in antagonistic capacities in nature.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / biosynthesis*
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Streptomyces / metabolism*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents