Although bacterial bioactive metabolites have been one of the most prolific sources of lead structures for the development of small-molecule therapeutics, very little is known about the environmental factors associated with changes in secondary metabolism across natural environments. Large-scale sequencing of environmental microbiomes has the potential to shed light on the richness of bacterial biosynthetic diversity hidden in the environment, how it varies from one environment to the next, and what environmental factors correlate with changes in biosynthetic diversity. In this study, the sequencing of PCR amplicons generated using primers targeting either ketosynthase domains from polyketide biosynthesis or adenylation domains from nonribosomal peptide biosynthesis was used to assess biosynthetic domain composition and richness in soils collected across the Australian continent. Using environmental variables collected at each soil site, we looked for environmental factors that correlated with either high overall domain richness or changes in the domain composition. Among the environmental variables we measured, changes in biosynthetic domain composition correlate most closely with changes in latitude and to a lesser extent changes in pH. Although it is unclear at this time the exact mix of factors that may drive the relationship between biosynthetic domain composition and latitude, from a practical perspective the identification of a latitudinal basis for differences in soil metagenome biosynthetic domain compositions should help guide future natural product discovery efforts.
Keywords: chemical biogeography; continental soil analysis; eDNA; nonribosomal peptide synthetase; polyketide synthase.
Published under the PNAS license.