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Beyond the assembly line - showcasing the complexities of fungal natural product biosynthesis

© Dr_Microbe / Getty Images / iStockGuest edited by Kate de Mattos-Shipley, University of Bristol, UK, and Katherine Williams, University of Bristol, UK

Metaphors have long been used by scientists to summarise or visualise complex biological processes.

In the field of natural product biosynthesis, one of the most common metaphors is that of the ‘assembly line’, conjuring up an appealing image of a developing molecule moving from enzyme to enzyme, being modified by each in a particular sequence. This metaphor was originally applied to the archetypal bacterial megasynthase enzymes involved in polyketide and non-ribosomal peptide biosynthesis. These large synthases are modular in nature, with each module being responsible for incorporating one ‘building block’ – either acyl units or amino acids respectively - into the growing molecule. The assembly line metaphor has often been expanded to take in full natural product pathways; once the megasynthase has produced the core scaffold, that scaffold then moves from one tailoring enzyme to another, decorating the molecule until the final product is achieved. Although the assembly line metaphor is elegant - and in many cases perfectly representative - such popular metaphors run the risk of limiting the way we imagine complex systems. In fungal natural product biosynthesis, for example, megasynthases are frequently iterative rather than modular, with complex and cryptic programming controlling the details of biosynthesis. Additional complexities arise through the roles of trans-acting enzymes, multifunctional enzymes, incorporation of unusual starter units or building blocks, and complex branching or converging pathways. In this special collection, we aim to capture that complexity in all its splendour, and welcome potential authors to contribute review articles or research papers.

Papers of interest for the special collection could include examples of the following:

  • Programming of megasynthases.
  • Unusual starter units or building blocks.
  • Multi-functional enzymes.
  • Trans-acting enzymes.
  • Branching or converging pathways.
  • Compartmentalisation.
  • Bioinformatic advances which specifically aid fungal natural product research.

Submissions should be formatted according to the journal guidelines of Fungal Biology and Biotechnology. Please indicate clearly in the cover letter and as part of the online submission form that the manuscript is to be considered for this collection. 

All manuscripts will undergo the journal’s standard peer review and must be submitted through the journal's online submission system, and are subject to all of the journal’s standard policies.

The Publisher declares that one of the Guest Editors of the Collection, Kate de Mattos-Shipley, is now an associate editor at Nature Communications, also part of Springer Nature. This affiliation does not constitute a conflict of interest, and did not impact her role as a guest editor.

  1. The Diels–Alder (DA) reaction refers to a [4 + 2] cycloaddition reaction that falls under the category of pericyclic reactions. It is a reaction that allows regio- and stereo-selective construction of two carb...

    Authors: Kenji Watanabe, Michio Sato and Hiroyuki Osada
    Citation: Fungal Biology and Biotechnology 2022 9:9
  2. Non-ribosomal peptide synthetase-like (NRPS-like) enzymes are highly enriched in fungal genomes and can be discriminated into reducing and non-reducing enzymes. Non-reducing NRPS-like enzymes possess a C-terminal...

    Authors: Carsten Wieder, Roberta Peres da Silva, Jessica Witts, Christof Martin Jäger, Elena Geib and Matthias Brock
    Citation: Fungal Biology and Biotechnology 2022 9:8
  3. Maleidrides are a family of structurally related fungal natural products, many of which possess diverse, potent bioactivities. Previous identification of several maleidride biosynthetic gene clusters, and subs...

    Authors: Katherine Williams, Kate M. J. de Mattos-Shipley, Christine L. Willis and Andrew M. Bailey
    Citation: Fungal Biology and Biotechnology 2022 9:2
  4. Fungi are prolific producers of secondary metabolites (SMs), which are bioactive small molecules with important applications in medicine, agriculture and other industries. The backbones of a large proportion o...

    Authors: Cameron L. M. Gilchrist and Yit-Heng Chooi
    Citation: Fungal Biology and Biotechnology 2021 8:13