The broad and potent biological activities of polyketides are determined by their chemical structures, which are constructed by polyketide synthases (PKSs). Combinatorial biosynthesis approaches aimed at creating designer PKSs for the generation of polyketide analogues have been limited in terms of scope and efficiency due to the requirement to provide tailored biosynthetic pathways for the generation and installation of non-natural extender units into polyketides. As part of our long term goal of reprogramming the biosynthesis of natural products for the synthesis of potential drugs, the overall objective here is to use tailor-made enzymes to build an artificial biosynthetic pathway for the synthesis and installation of diverse extender units into polyketides. Our hypotheses are (1) a promiscuous acyl-CoA synthetase can be created and used to synthesize diverse extender units, (2) novel non-natural substrates for PKSs and trans-ATs can be identified by probing the specificity of these enzymes with diverse extender units, and (3) inherent promiscuity of PKSs and/or inherent/engineered promiscuity of trans-ATs can be harnessed to construct prototype bacterial strains for regioselective installation of non-natural extender units into polyketides. These hypotheses are supported by (1) strong preliminary data that shows the substrate specificity of a malonyl-CoA synthetase can be expanded, (2) preliminary data and literature precedent that hint at potential promiscuity of PKSs and trans-ATs, and (3) the ability to produce natural polyketides in heterologous hosts and the known cell permeability of required small molecule precursors. The rationale for the proposed research is that our proposed acyl-CoA synthetase/trans-AT route offers the ability to produce a broad variety of extender units in vivo and in vitro, enabling identification of new PKS specificities, and ultimately the synthesis of regioselectively modified polyketides. The following specific aims will be completed (1) create promiscuous acyl-CoA synthetases for extender unit generation, (2) characterize and alter the specificity of PKSs and related biosynthetic machinery, and (3) construct prototype bacterial strains for extender unit generation and installation into polyketides. The expected outcomes of the proposed research include (1) mutant enzymes for PKS substrate synthesis, (2) novel specificities for PKSs and related machinery, (3) bacterial strains for heterologous production of polyketide analogues, and (4) improved understanding of substrate specificity and catalysis in PKSs. The results are expected to have broad positive impact and lead to vertical advances in natural product synthesis, synthetic biology, and drug discovery by (1) providing new strategies for natural product diversification, (2) extending our understanding of PKS catalyzed reactions, (3) providing new approaches for engineering PKSs and other enzymes, and (4) access to biologically active natural products not readily accessible by conventional organic synthesis or genetic manipulation.

Public Health Relevance

The proposed research is relevant to public health because polyketides are widely used in medicine, and engineering biosynthetic routes to polyketides could provide general and efficient synthetic routes to polyketide analogues, and could ultimately lead to the discovery of new small molecule therapeutics. Existing approaches that depend on in vivo production of polyketides are limited in terms of scope and efficiency. This research is aimed at overcoming these limitations by creating tailor-made enzymes and biosynthetic pathways that will form the basis of prototype bacterial strains for production of polyketide analogues. This research will further enhance understanding of the molecular basis of catalysis and specificity in complex biochemical systems, and lead to a better understanding of how to design artificial biosynthetic routes to non-natural small molecules.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Synthetic and Biological Chemistry B Study Section (SBCB)
Program Officer
Gerratana, Barbara
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
North Carolina State University Raleigh
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
Zip Code
Musiol-Kroll, Ewa M; Zubeil, Florian; Schafhauser, Thomas et al. (2017) Polyketide Bioderivatization Using the Promiscuous Acyltransferase KirCII. ACS Synth Biol 6:421-427
Koryakina, Irina; Kasey, Christian; McArthur, John B et al. (2017) Inversion of Extender Unit Selectivity in the Erythromycin Polyketide Synthase by Acyltransferase Domain Engineering. ACS Chem Biol 12:114-123
Ladner, Christopher C; Williams, Gavin J (2016) Harnessing natural product assembly lines: structure, promiscuity, and engineering. J Ind Microbiol Biotechnol 43:371-87
Randall, Shan M; Koryakina, Irina; Williams, Gavin J et al. (2014) Evaluating nonpolar surface area and liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry response: an application for site occupancy measurements for enzyme intermediates in polyketide biosynthesis. Rapid Commun Mass Spectrom 28:2511-22
Ye, Zhixia; Musiol, Ewa M; Weber, Tilmann et al. (2014) Reprogramming acyl carrier protein interactions of an Acyl-CoA promiscuous trans-acyltransferase. Chem Biol 21:636-46
Williams, Gavin J (2013) Engineering polyketide synthases and nonribosomal peptide synthetases. Curr Opin Struct Biol 23:603-12