Symbiosis-inspired approaches to antibiotic discovery
Covering: 2010 up to 2017
Life on Earth is characterized by a remarkable abundance of symbiotic and highly refined relationships among life forms. Defined as any kind of close, long-term association between two organisms, symbioses can be mutualistic, commensalistic or parasitic. Historically speaking, selective pressures have shaped symbioses in which one organism (typically a bacterium or fungus) generates bioactive small molecules that impact the host (and possibly other symbionts); the symbiosis is driven fundamentally by the genetic machineries available to the small molecule producer. The human microbiome is now integral to the most recent chapter in animal–microbe symbiosis studies and plant–microbe symbioses have significantly advanced our understanding of natural products biosynthesis; this also is the case for studies of fungal–microbe symbioses. However, much less is known about microbe–microbe systems involving interspecies interactions. Microbe-derived small molecules (i.e. antibiotics and quorum sensing molecules, etc.) have been shown to regulate transcription in microbes within the same environmental niche, suggesting interspecies interactions whereas, intraspecies interactions, such as those that exploit autoinducing small molecules, also modulate gene expression based on environmental cues. We, and others, contend that symbioses provide almost unlimited opportunities for the discovery of new bioactive compounds whose activities and applications have been evolutionarily optimized. Particularly intriguing is the possibility that environmental effectors can guide laboratory expression of secondary metabolites from “orphan”, or silent, biosynthetic gene clusters (BGCs). Notably, many of the studies summarized here result from advances in “omics” technologies and highlight how symbioses have given rise to new anti-bacterial and antifungal natural products now being discovered.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Novel Antibiotics and Antimicrobial Resistance