Cultivation-independent approaches to investigate the chemistry of marine symbiotic bacteria

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Sessile marine animals like sponges, tunicates, and bryozoans are a rich source of bioactive natural products, many of which exhibit potent anticancer activities. However, most of these substances are available in very limited amounts only, which has prohibited further drug development. Recent evidence suggests that symbiotic bacteria might be the true producers of many animal-derived metabolites. In addition to revealing fascinating perspectives for research in marine chemical ecology, these findings suggest new solutions to the supply problem. Although most symbionts remain uncultivated, bacterial production systems might be created by isolating biosynthetic genes from marine metagenomes, and expressing them in culturable bacterial hosts. This review discusses cell-sorting, natural product visualization, and phylogenetic approaches to identify symbiotic producers. In addition, strategies to isolate genes and gene clusters from marine species consortia are described. These techniques have provided insights into the bacterial origin and biosynthesis of polyketides like the onnamides, swinholides, and bryostatins, of peptides including the patellamides, chlorinated dipeptides, and theopalauamide as well as of brominated biphenylethers.

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