Cyanobacterial peptides – Nature's own combinatorial biosynthesis


  • Editor: Annick Wilmotte

Correspondence: Martin Welker, Technische Universität Berlin, Institut für Chemie, AG Biochemie, Franklinstrasse 29, 10587 Berlin, Germany. e-mail:


Cyanobacterial secondary metabolites have attracted increasing scientific interest due to bioactivity of many compounds in various test systems. Among the known structures, oligopeptides are often found with many congeners sharing conserved substructures, while being highly variable in others. A major part of known oligopeptides are of non-ribosomal origin and can be grouped into classes with conserved structural properties. Thus, the overall structural diversity of cyanobacterial oligopeptides only seemingly suggests an equally high diversity of biosynthetic pathways and respective genes. For each class of peptides, some of which have been found in all major branches of the cyanobacterial evolutionary tree, homologous synthetases and genes can be inferred. This implies that non-ribosomal peptide synthetase genes are a very ancient part of the cyanobacterial genome and presumably have evolved by recombination and duplication events to reach the present structural diversity of cyanobacterial oligopeptides. In addition, peptide synthetases would appear to be an essential part of the cyanobacterial evolution and physiology. The present review presents an overview of the biosynthesis of cyanobacterial peptides and corresponding gene clusters, the structural diversity of structural types and structural variations within peptide classes, and implications for the evolution and plasticity of biosynthetic genes and the potential function of cyanobacterial peptides.