Invited Speaker Annual Conference of the Genetics Society of Australasia with the NZ Society for Biochemistry & Molecular Biology

Discovery of new natural products from uncultivated microbes (786)

Jeremy G Owen 1 , Matthew A Storey 1 , Luke J Stevenson 1 , Mark J Calcott 1 , David F Ackerley 1 , Robert A Keyzers 1 , Liwei Jui 1
  1. Victoria University of Wellington, Welllington, WELLINGTON, New Zealand

Hidden all around us are complex microbial communities in which a myriad of bacterial species must compete with their foes and communicate with their brethren in order to survive. Interactions in these communities are mediated by secondary metabolites, a collection of small molecules whose structures and biological activities are vastly diverse. Beyond their natural roles, microbial secondary metabolites have been incredibly valuable as a source of antibiotics, anticancer agents, immunosuppressants and many other compounds used in both medicine and basic research. Traditionally, microbial secondary metabolites have been examined via the isolation and laboratory culture of microbes, however it is estimated that less than one percent of the microbes present in a given environment are currently able to be cultured in the laboratory. It is now possible to access the biosynthetic potential of the remaining 99 % of bacterial species using a cultivation independent approach to discovery. This entails direct extraction of microbial genomic DNA from environmental samples and archiving this DNA as libraries. Fragments encoding small molecule biosynthesis can then be identified and transferred to a cultivable host that can read the new instructions and build the compounds they specify. In this talk I will discuss experimental and computational methods that allow rapid identification of genome fragments encoding biologically active small molecules. I will also present recent results from screening of New Zealand soil, sea sponge and lichen microbiomes.