Discovery of phosphonic acid natural products by mining the genomes of 10,000 actinomycetes

Kou San Ju, Jiangtao Gao, James R. Doroghazi, Kwo Kwang A. Wang, Christopher J. Thibodeaux, Steven Li, Emily Metzger, John Fudala, Joleen Su, Jun Kai Zhang, Jaeheon Lee, Joel P. Cioni, Bradley S. Evans, Ryuichi Hirota, David P. Labeda, Wilfred A. Van Der Donk, William W. Metcalf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although natural products have been a particularly rich source of human medicines, activity-based screening results in a very high rate of rediscovery of known molecules. Based on the large number of natural product biosynthetic genes in microbial genomes, many have proposed "genome mining" as an alternative approach for discovery efforts; however, this idea has yet to be performed experimentally on a large scale. Here, we demonstrate the feasibility of large-scale, high-throughput genome mining by screening a collection of over 10,000 actinomycetes for the genetic potential to make phosphonic acids, a class of natural products with diverse and useful bioactivities. Genome sequencing identified a diverse collection of phosphonate biosynthetic gene clusters within 278 strains. These clusters were classified into 64 distinct groups, of which 55 are likely to direct the synthesis of unknown compounds. Characterization of strains within five of these groups resulted in the discovery of a new archetypical pathway for phosphonate biosynthesis, the first (to our knowledge) dedicated pathway for H-phosphinates, and 11 previously undescribed phosphonic acid natural products. Among these compounds are argolaphos, a broad-spectrum antibacterial phosphonopeptide composed of aminomethylphosphonate in peptide linkage to a rare amino acid N5-hydroxyarginine; valinophos, an N-acetyl L-Val ester of 2,3-dihydroxypropylphosphonate; and phosphonocystoximate, an unusual thiohydroximate-containing molecule representing a new chemotype of sulfur-containing phosphonate natural products. Analysis of the genome sequences from the remaining strains suggests that the majority of the phosphonate biosynthetic repertoire of Actinobacteria has been captured at the gene level. This dereplicated strain collection now provides a reservoir of numerous, as yet undiscovered, phosphonate natural products.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)12175-12180
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number39
StatePublished - Sep 29 2015


  • Antibiotic
  • Genome mining
  • Natural products
  • Phosphonic acid

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


Dive into the research topics of 'Discovery of phosphonic acid natural products by mining the genomes of 10,000 actinomycetes'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this