Bacterial production of long-chain fatty acids via a polyketide synthase-related mechanism has thus far only been investigated in isolate-based studies. Here, the genetic capacity for production of long-chain fatty acids was investigated using a culture-independent approach. PCR primers targeting the keto-acyl synthase (KS) domain of the pfaA gene involved in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) biosynthesis were used to construct clone libraries to investigate KS sequence diversity in disparate marine habitats. Of the 446 sequences recovered, 123 (27.6%) clustered with KS sequences involved in the synthesis of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, C20:5n-3), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, C22:6n-3) and arachidonic acid (AA, C20:4n-6). The remaining 72.4% of clones formed environmental-only groups or grouped with the KS domains of pfaA homologues from organisms producing unidentified products. In total, 17 groups were recovered – four known and 13 newly identified. A query of metagenomic data sets revealed sequences related to EPA KS domains, as well as sequences related to four environmental-only groups discovered in the clone libraries. The phylogenetic affiliation and end product of these environmental-only KS clusters is unknown. These findings reveal a widespread capacity for long-chain fatty acid production in marine microorganisms, including biosynthetic pathways not yet characterized.
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