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Resistance-gene-directed discovery of a natural-product herbicide with a new mode of action.

  • Author(s): Yan, Yan
  • Liu, Qikun
  • Zang, Xin
  • Yuan, Shuguang
  • Bat-Erdene, Undramaa
  • Nguyen, Calvin
  • Gan, Jianhua
  • Zhou, Jiahai
  • Jacobsen, Steven E
  • Tang, Yi
  • et al.

Bioactive natural products have evolved to inhibit specific cellular targets and have served as lead molecules for health and agricultural applications for the past century1-3. The post-genomics era has brought a renaissance in the discovery of natural products using synthetic-biology tools4-6. However, compared to traditional bioactivity-guided approaches, genome mining of natural products with specific and potent biological activities remains challenging4. Here we present the discovery and validation of a potent herbicide that targets a critical metabolic enzyme that is required for plant survival. Our approach is based on the co-clustering of a self-resistance gene in the natural-product biosynthesis gene cluster7-9, which provides insight into the potential biological activity of the encoded compound. We targeted dihydroxy-acid dehydratase in the branched-chain amino acid biosynthetic pathway in plants; the last step in this pathway is often targeted for herbicide development10. We show that the fungal sesquiterpenoid aspterric acid, which was discovered using the method described above, is a sub-micromolar inhibitor of dihydroxy-acid dehydratase that is effective as a herbicide in spray applications. The self-resistance gene astD was validated to be insensitive to aspterric acid and was deployed as a transgene in the establishment of plants that are resistant to aspterric acid. This herbicide-resistance gene combination complements the urgent ongoing efforts to overcome weed resistance11. Our discovery demonstrates the potential of using a resistance-gene-directed approach in the discovery of bioactive natural products.

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