On the evolution of functional secondary metabolites (natural products)

Mol Microbiol. 1992 Jan;6(1):29-34. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2958.1992.tb00834.x.


It is argued that organisms have evolved the ability to biosynthesize secondary metabolites (natural products) because of the selectional advantages they obtain as a result of the functions of the compounds. The clustering together of antibiotic biosynthesis, regulation, and resistance genes implies that these genes have been selected as a group and that the antibiotics function in antagonistic capacities in nature. Pleiotropic switching, the simultaneous expression of sporulation and antibiotic biosynthesis genes, is interpreted in terms of the defence roles of antibiotics. We suggest a general mechanism for the evolution of secondary metabolite biosynthesis pathways, and argue against the hypothesis that modern antibiotics had prebiotic effector functions, on the basis that it does not account for modern biosynthetic pathways.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / biosynthesis*
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Drug Resistance, Microbial / genetics
  • Genes, Switch


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents