Elucidating the diversity and potential function of nonribosomal peptide and polyketide biosynthetic gene clusters in the root microbiome

Barak Dror, Zongqiang Wang, Sean F. Brady, Edouard Jurkevitch, Eddie Cytryn*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Polyketides (PKs) and nonribosomal peptides (NRPs) are two microbial secondary metabolite (SM) families known for their variety of functions, including antimicrobials, siderophores, and others. Despite their involvement in bacterium-bacterium and bacterium-plant interactions, root-associated SMs are largely unexplored due to the limited cultivability of bacteria. Here, we analyzed the diversity and expression of SM-encoding biosynthetic gene clusters (BGCs) in root microbiomes by culture-independent amplicon sequencing, shotgun metagenomics, and metatranscriptomics. Roots (tomato and lettuce) harbored distinct compositions of nonribosomal peptide synthetases (NRPSs) and polyketide synthases (PKSs) relative to the adjacent bulk soil, and specific BGC markers were both enriched and highly expressed in the root microbiomes. While several of the highly abundant and expressed sequences were remotely associated with known BGCs, the low similarity to characterized genes suggests their potential novelty. Low-similarity genes were screened against a large set of soil-derived cosmid libraries, from which five whole BGCs of unknown function were retrieved. Three clusters were taxonomically affiliated with Actinobacteria, while the remaining were not associated with known bacteria. One Streptomycesderived BGC was predicted to encode a polyene with potential antifungal activity, while the others were too novel to predict chemical structure. Screening against a suite of metagenomic data sets revealed higher abundances of retrieved clusters in roots and soil samples. In contrast, they were almost completely absent in aquatic and gut environments, supporting the notion that they might play an important role in root ecosystems. Overall, our results indicate that root microbiomes harbor a specific assemblage of undiscovered SMs. IMPORTANCE We identified distinct secondary-metabolite-encoding genes that are enriched (relative to adjacent bulk soil) and expressed in root ecosystems yet almost completely absent in human gut and aquatic environments. Several of the genes were distantly related to genes encoding antimicrobials and siderophores, and their high sequence variability relative to known sequences suggests that they may encode novel metabolites and may have unique ecological functions. This study demonstrates that plant roots harbor a diverse array of unique secondary-metabolite- encoding genes that are highly enriched and expressed in the root ecosystem. The secondary metabolites encoded by these genes might assist the bacteria that produce them in colonization and persistence in the root environment. To explore this hypothesis, future investigations should assess their potential role in interbacterial and bacterium-plant interactions.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere00866-20
Issue number6
StatePublished - 22 Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2020 Dror et al.


  • Nonribosomal peptides
  • Plant-microbe interactions
  • Polyketides
  • Root microbiome
  • Secondary metabolism
  • Secondary metabolites
  • Soil microbiome


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