Natural Products & Synthetic Microbiology
Filamentous fungi are a long-time source of bioactive compounds used by the food, agrochemical, and pharmaceutical industries. Despite this, fungi isolated from competitive environments have been relatively understudied yet have the potential to produce many bioactive secondary metabolites (SMs). Our research uses a range of molecular microbiological and chemical techniques to mine several fungal species for their specialized metabolites and to investigate their ecological role and potential application in medicine and agriculture.
Our three main goals are:
Identifying natural products produced by several fungal species and investigating their biological and ecological role
Investigating the biosynthesis of secondary metabolites
Developing genetic tools to activate biosynthetic gene clusters
Anti-infective discovery from competitive ecosystems
Escovopsis weberi is a pathogenic filamentous fungus that has co-evolved with leaf-cutter ants, their garden fungus Leucoagaricus gongylophorus, and mutualistic Pseudonocardia bacteria. To establish itself and survive in this complex microbiome, E. weberi utilises bioactive SMs (Batey et al.). Recent work identified some of these compounds and analysis of the genome revealed numerous additional biosynthetic gene clusters suggesting a vast array of cryptic SMs remain to be discovered. At present, many of these potentially valuable compounds are out-of-reach as no genetic tools have been developed for Escovopsis species. This project will use a combination of chemistry, genetics, microbiology and bioinformatics to develop a platform tailored to mine new bioactive compounds from E. weberi, to investigate their biosynthesis and to yield a better understanding of the complex ecosystem of the leaf-cutter ants.