Genes involved in intermediary and secondary metabolism in fungi are frequently physically linked or clustered. For example, in Aspergillus nidulans the entire pathway for the production of sterigmatocystin (ST), a highly toxic secondary metabolite and a precursor to the aflatoxins (AF), is located in a ∼54 kb, 23 gene cluster. We discovered that a complete ST gene cluster in Podospora anserina was horizontally transferred from Aspergillus. Phylogenetic analysis shows that most Podospora cluster genes are adjacent to or nested within Aspergillus cluster genes, although the two genera belong to different taxonomic classes. Furthermore, the Podospora cluster is highly conserved in content, sequence, and microsynteny with the Aspergillus ST/AF clusters and its intergenic regions contain 14 putative binding sites for AflR, the transcription factor required for activation of the ST/AF biosynthetic genes. Examination of ∼52,000 Podospora expressed sequence tags identified transcripts for 14 genes in the cluster, with several expressed at multiple life cycle stages. The presence of putative AflR-binding sites and the expression evidence for several cluster genes, coupled with the recent independent discovery of ST production in Podospora , suggest that this HGT event probably resulted in a functional cluster. Given the abundance of metabolic gene clusters in fungi, our finding that one of the largest known metabolic gene clusters moved intact between species suggests that such transfers might have significantly contributed to fungal metabolic diversity. PAPERFLICK:
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