Background: Penicillium chrysogenum is a filamentous fungus that is employed as an industrial producer of β-lactams. The high β-lactam titers of current strains is the result of a classical strain improvement program (CSI) starting with a wild-type like strain more than six decades ago. This involved extensive mutagenesis and strain selection for improved β-lactam titers and growth characteristics. However, the impact of the CSI on the secondary metabolism in general remains unknown.
Results: To examine the impact of CSI on secondary metabolism, a comparative genomic analysis of β-lactam producing strains was carried out by genome sequencing of three P. chrysogenum strains that are part of a lineage of the CSI, i.e., strains NRRL1951, Wisconsin 54-1255, DS17690, and the derived penicillin biosynthesis cluster free strain DS68530. CSI has resulted in a wide spread of mutations, that statistically did not result in an over- or underrepresentation of specific gene classes. However, in this set of mutations, 8 out of 31 secondary metabolite genes (20 polyketide synthases and 11 non-ribosomal peptide synthetases) were targeted with a corresponding and progressive loss in the production of a range of secondary metabolites unrelated to β-lactam production. Additionally, key Velvet complex proteins (LeaA and VelA) involved in global regulation of secondary metabolism have been repeatedly targeted for mutagenesis during CSI. Using comparative metabolic profiling, the polyketide synthetase gene cluster was identified that is responsible for sorbicillinoid biosynthesis, a group of yellow-colored metabolites that are abundantly produced by early production strains of P. chrysogenum.
Conclusions: The classical industrial strain improvement of P. chrysogenum has had a broad mutagenic impact on metabolism and has resulted in silencing of specific secondary metabolite genes with the concomitant diversion of metabolism towards the production of β-lactams.