Evolution and diversity of biosynthetic gene clusters in Fusarium

Hoogendoorn, Koen; Barra, Lena; Waalwijk, Cees; Dickschat, Jeroen S.; Lee, Theo A.J. van der; Medema, Marnix H.


Plant pathogenic fungi in the Fusarium genus cause severe damage to crops, resulting in great financial losses and health hazards. Specialized metabolites synthesized by these fungi are known to play key roles in the infection process, and to provide survival advantages inside and outside the host. However, systematic studies of the evolution of specialized metabolite-coding potential across Fusarium have been scarce. Here, we apply a combination of bioinformatic approaches to identify biosynthetic gene clusters (BGCs) across publicly available genomes from Fusarium, to group them into annotated families and to study gain/loss events of BGC families throughout the history of the genus. Comparison with MIBiG reference BGCs allowed assignment of 29 gene cluster families (GCFs) to pathways responsible for the production of known compounds, while for 57 GCFs, the molecular products remain unknown. Comparative analysis of BGC repertoires using ancestral state reconstruction raised several new hypotheses on how BGCs contribute to Fusarium pathogenicity or host specificity, sometimes surprisingly so: for example, a gene cluster for the biosynthesis of hexadehydro-astechrome was identified in the genome of the biocontrol strain Fusarium oxysporum Fo47, while being absent in that of the tomato pathogen F. oxysporum f.sp. lycopersici. Several BGCs were also identified on supernumerary chromosomes; heterologous expression of genes for three terpene synthases encoded on the Fusarium poae supernumerary chromosome and subsequent GC/MS analysis showed that these genes are functional and encode enzymes that each are able to synthesize koraiol; this observed functional redundancy supports the hypothesis that localization of copies of BGCs on supernumerary chromosomes provides freedom for evolutionary innovations to occur, while the original function remains conserved. Altogether, this systematic overview of biosynthetic diversity in Fusarium paves the way for targeted natural product discovery based on automated identification of species-specific pathways as well as for connecting species ecology to the taxonomic distributions of BGCs.