From hormones to secondary metabolism: the emergence of metabolic gene clusters in plants

Authors


(fax +44 1603 450014; e-mail anne.osbourn@bbsrc.ac.uk).

Summary

Gene clusters for the synthesis of secondary metabolites are a common feature of microbial genomes. Well-known examples include clusters for the synthesis of antibiotics in actinomycetes, and also for the synthesis of antibiotics and toxins in filamentous fungi. Until recently it was thought that genes for plant metabolic pathways were not clustered, and this is certainly true in many cases; however, five plant secondary metabolic gene clusters have now been discovered, all of them implicated in synthesis of defence compounds. An obvious assumption might be that these eukaryotic gene clusters have arisen by horizontal gene transfer from microbes, but there is compelling evidence to indicate that this is not the case. This raises intriguing questions about how widespread such clusters are, what the significance of clustering is, why genes for some metabolic pathways are clustered and those for others are not, and how these clusters form. In answering these questions we may hope to learn more about mechanisms of genome plasticity and adaptive evolution in plants. It is noteworthy that for the five plant secondary metabolic gene clusters reported so far, the enzymes for the first committed steps all appear to have been recruited directly or indirectly from primary metabolic pathways involved in hormone synthesis. This may or may not turn out to be a common feature of plant secondary metabolic gene clusters as new clusters emerge.

Ancillary