Phylogenetic Distribution of Secondary Metabolites in the Bacillus subtilis Species Complex

Kat Steinke, Omkar Satyavan Mohite, Tilmann Weber*, Ákos T. Kovács*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Microbes produce a plethora of secondary (or specialized) metabolites that, although not essential for primary metabolism, benefit them to survive in the environment, communicate, and influence cell differentiation. Biosynthetic gene clusters (BGCs), responsible for the production of these secondary metabolites, are readily identifiable on bacterial genome sequences. Understanding the phylogeny and distribution of BGCs helps us to predict the natural product synthesis ability of new isolates. Here, we examined 310 genomes from the Bacillus subtilis group, determined the inter- and intraspecies patterns of absence/presence for all BGCs, and assigned them to defined gene cluster families (GCFs). This allowed us to establish patterns in the distribution of both known and unknown products. Further, we analyzed variations in the BGC structures of particular families encoding natural products, such as plipastatin, fengycin, iturin, mycosubtilin, and bacillomycin. Our detailed analysis revealed multiple GCFs that are species or clade specific and a few others that are scattered within or between species, which will guide exploration of the chemodiversity within the B. subtilis group. Surprisingly, we discovered that partial deletion of BGCs and frameshift mutations in selected biosynthetic genes are conserved within phylogenetically related isolates, although isolated from around the globe. Our results highlight the importance of detailed genomic analysis of BGCs and the remarkable phylogenetically conserved erosion of secondary metabolite biosynthetic potential in the B. subtilis group.IMPORTANCE Members of the B. subtilis species complex are commonly recognized producers of secondary metabolites, among those, the production of antifungals, which makes them promising biocontrol strains. While there are studies examining the distribution of well-known secondary metabolites in Bacilli, intraspecies clade-specific distribution has not been systematically reported for the B. subtilis group. Here, we report the complete biosynthetic potential within theB. subtilis group to explore the distribution of the biosynthetic gene clusters and to reveal an exhaustive phylogenetic conservation of secondary metabolite production within Bacillus that supports the chemodiversity within this species complex. We identify that certain gene clusters acquired deletions of genes and particular frameshift mutations, rendering them inactive for secondary metabolite biosynthesis, a conserved genetic trait within phylogenetically conserved clades of certain species. The overview guides the assignment of the secondary metabolite production potential of newly isolated Bacillus strains based on genome sequence and phylogenetic relatedness.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00057-21
Issue number2
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Bacillus
  • Biosynthetic gene clusters
  • Fengycin
  • Iturin
  • Phylogeny
  • Plipastatin
  • Secondary metabolite


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