Heterologous expression of the unusual terreazepine biosynthetic gene cluster reveals a promising approach for identifying new chemical scaffolds

Lindsay K. Caesar, Matthew T. Robey, Michael Swyers, Md N. Islam, Rosa Ye, Purav P. Vagadia, Gary E. Schiltz, Paul M. Thomas, Chengcang C. Wu*, Neil L. Kelleher, Nancy P. Keller, Jin Woo Bok

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Advances in genome sequencing have revitalized natural product discovery efforts, revealing the untapped biosynthetic potential of fungi. While the volume of genomic data continues to expand, discovery efforts are slowed due to the time-consuming nature of experiments required to characterize new molecules. To direct efforts toward uncharacterized biosynthetic gene clusters most likely to encode novel chemical scaffolds, we took advantage of comparative metabolomics and heterologous gene expression using fungal artificial chromosomes (FACs). By linking mass spectral profiles with structural clues provided by FAC-encoded gene clusters, we targeted a compound originating from an unusual gene cluster containing an indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase (IDO). With this approach, we isolate and characterize R and S forms of the new molecule terreazepine, which contains a novel chemical scaffold resulting from cycl-ization of the IDO-supplied kynurenine. The discovery of terreazepine illustrates that FAC-based approaches targeting unusual biosynthetic machinery provide a promising avenue forward for targeted discovery of novel scaffolds and their biosynthetic enzymes, and it also represents another example of a biosynthetic gene cluster “repurposing” a primary metabolic enzyme to diversify its secondary metabolite arsenal. IMPORTANCE Here, we provide evidence that Aspergillus terreus encodes a biosynthetic gene cluster containing a repurposed indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase (IDO) dedicated to secondary metabolite synthesis. The discovery of this neofunctionalized IDO not only en-abled discovery of a new compound with an unusual chemical scaffold but also provided insight into the numerous strategies fungi employ for diversifying and protecting themselves against secondary metabolites. The observations in this study set the stage for further in-depth studies into the function of duplicated IDOs present in fungal bio-synthetic gene clusters and presents a strategy for accessing the biosynthetic potential of gene clusters containing duplicated primary metabolic genes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere01691-20
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2020


  • 3-dioxygenase
  • Aspergillus
  • Aspergillus nidulans
  • Aspergillus terreus
  • Biosynthetic gene cluster
  • Genome mining
  • Heterologous expression
  • IDO
  • Indoleamine 2
  • Kynurenine
  • NRPS
  • Natural products

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Virology


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