Assembling a plug-and-play production line for combinatorial biosynthesis of aromatic polyketides in Escherichia coli

Matthew Cummings, Anna D. Peters, George F.S. Whitehead, Binuraj R.K. Menon, Jason Micklefield, Simon J. Webb, Eriko Takano*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Polyketides are a class of specialised metabolites synthesised by both eukaryotes and prokaryotes. These chemically and structurally diverse molecules are heavily used in the clinic and include frontline antimicrobial and anticancer drugs such as erythromycin and doxorubicin. To replenish the clinicians’ diminishing arsenal of bioactive molecules, a promising strategy aims at transferring polyketide biosynthetic pathways from their native producers into the biotechnologically desirable host Escherichia coli. This approach has been successful for type I modular polyketide synthases (PKSs); however, despite more than 3 decades of research, the large and important group of type II PKSs has until now been elusive in E. coli. Here, we report on a versatile polyketide biosynthesis pipeline, based on identification of E. coli–compatible type II PKSs. We successfully express 5 ketosynthase (KS) and chain length factor (CLF) pairs—e.g., from Photorhabdus luminescens TT01, Streptomyces resistomycificus, Streptoccocus sp. GMD2S, Pseudoalteromonas luteoviolacea, and Ktedonobacter racemifer—as soluble heterodimeric recombinant proteins in E. coli for the first time. We define the anthraquinone minimal PKS components and utilise this biosynthetic system to synthesise anthraquinones, dianthrones, and benzoisochromanequinones (BIQs). Furthermore, we demonstrate the tolerance and promiscuity of the anthraquinone heterologous biosynthetic pathway in E. coli to act as genetically applicable plug-and-play scaffold, showing it to function successfully when combined with enzymes from phylogenetically distant species, endophytic fungi and plants, which resulted in 2 new-to-nature compounds, neomedicamycin and neochaetomycin. This work enables plug-and-play combinatorial biosynthesis of aromatic polyketides using bacterial type II PKSs in E. coli, providing full access to its many advantages in terms of easy and fast genetic manipulation, accessibility for high-throughput robotics, and convenient biotechnological scale-up. Using the synthetic and systems biology toolbox, this plug-and-play biosynthetic platform can serve as an engine for the production of new and diversified bioactive polyketides in an automated, rapid, and versatile fashion.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere3000347
Number of pages34
JournalPLoS Biology
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jul 2019


  • UKRI
  • BB/J014478/1


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