Biologically Active Secondary Metabolites from the Fungi

Microbiol Spectr. 2016 Nov;4(6). doi: 10.1128/microbiolspec.FUNK-0009-2016.


Many Fungi have a well-developed secondary metabolism. The diversity of fungal species and the diversification of biosynthetic gene clusters underscores a nearly limitless potential for metabolic variation and an untapped resource for drug discovery and synthetic biology. Much of the ecological success of the filamentous fungi in colonizing the planet is owed to their ability to deploy their secondary metabolites in concert with their penetrative and absorptive mode of life. Fungal secondary metabolites exhibit biological activities that have been developed into life-saving medicines and agrochemicals. Toxic metabolites, known as mycotoxins, contaminate human and livestock food and indoor environments. Secondary metabolites are determinants of fungal diseases of humans, animals, and plants. Secondary metabolites exhibit a staggering variation in chemical structures and biological activities, yet their biosynthetic pathways share a number of key characteristics. The genes encoding cooperative steps of a biosynthetic pathway tend to be located contiguously on the chromosome in coregulated gene clusters. Advances in genome sequencing, computational tools, and analytical chemistry are enabling the rapid connection of gene clusters with their metabolic products. At least three fungal drug precursors, penicillin K and V, mycophenolic acid, and pleuromutilin, have been produced by synthetic reconstruction and expression of respective gene clusters in heterologous hosts. This review summarizes general aspects of fungal secondary metabolism and recent developments in our understanding of how and why fungi make secondary metabolites, how these molecules are produced, and how their biosynthetic genes are distributed across the Fungi. The breadth of fungal secondary metabolite diversity is highlighted by recent information on the biosynthesis of important fungus-derived metabolites that have contributed to human health and agriculture and that have negatively impacted crops, food distribution, and human environments.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biosynthetic Pathways
  • Diterpenes / metabolism
  • Fungi / genetics
  • Fungi / metabolism*
  • Genome, Fungal
  • Humans
  • Mycophenolic Acid / metabolism
  • Mycotoxins / metabolism
  • Pleuromutilins
  • Polycyclic Compounds
  • Secondary Metabolism / physiology*
  • Synthetic Biology


  • Diterpenes
  • Mycotoxins
  • Polycyclic Compounds
  • Mycophenolic Acid