A Novel Pathway for Biosynthesis of the Herbicidal Phosphonate Natural Product Phosphonothrixin Is Widespread in Actinobacteria

Luke Bown, Ryuichi Hirota, Michelle N. Goettge, Jerry Cui, David T. Krist, Lingyang Zhu, Constantin Giurgiu, Wilfred A. van der Donk, Kou San Ju, William W. Metcalf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Phosphonothrixin is an herbicidal phosphonate natural product with an unusual, branched carbon skeleton. Bioinformatic analyses of the ftx gene cluster, which is responsible for synthesis of the compound, suggest that early steps of the biosynthetic pathway, up to production of the intermediate 2,3-dihydroxypropylphosphonic acid (DHPPA) are identical to those of the unrelated phosphonate natural product valinophos. This conclusion was strongly supported by the observation of biosynthetic intermediates from the shared pathway in spent media from two phosphonothrixin producing strains. Biochemical characterization of ftx-encoded proteins confirmed these early steps, as well as subsequent steps involving the oxidation of DHPPA to 3-hydroxy-2-oxopropylphosph-onate and its conversion to phosphonothrixin by the combined action of an unusual heterodimeric, thiamine-pyrophosphate (TPP)-dependent ketotransferase and a TPP-dependent acetolactate synthase. The frequent observation of ftx-like gene clusters within actinobacteria suggests that production of compounds related to phosphonothrixin is common within these bacteria. IMPORTANCE Phosphonic acid natural products, such as phosphonothrixin, have great potential for biomedical and agricultural applications; however, discovery and development of these compounds requires detailed knowledge of the metabolism involved in their biosynthesis. The studies reported here reveal the biochemical pathway phosphonothrixin production, which enhances our ability to design strains that overproduce this potentially useful herbicide. This knowledge also improves our ability to predict the products of related biosynthetic gene clusters and the functions of homologous enzymes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of bacteriology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2023


  • biosynthesis
  • enzyme
  • herbicide
  • natural product
  • phosphonate

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Microbiology


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