Increased conidiation associated with progression along the sterigmatocystin biosynthetic pathway

Mycologia. Nov-Dec 2004;96(6):1190-8.

Abstract

The Aspergillus nidulans sterigmatocystin (ST) gene cluster contains both regulatory (aflR) and biosynthetic genes (stc genes) required for ST production. A total of 26 genes are in the cluster, 13 of which have been assigned a known function in the biosynthetic pathway. This complex secondary pathway represents a physiological cost to the fungus. We tested the amount of asexual spore production using a series of isogenic lines of A. nidulans, differing only in a mutation in aflR (resulting in a strain containing no ST intermediates) or a mutation in three stc genes that produced either no ST intermediates (ΔstcJ), an early ST intermediate, norsoloroinic acid (ΔstcE) or a late ST intermediate, versicolorin A (ΔstcU). In two independently replicated experiments we compared the numbers of conidia produced by each of these mutant strains and a wild type ST producer in a neutral (growth media) and a host (corn seed) environment. A stepwise increase in asexual spore production was observed with each progressive step in the ST pathway. Thus, the data suggest that recruitment or loss of these secondary metabolite pathway genes has a selective advantage apart from the physiological activity of the metabolite.