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Characterisation, Manipulation and Directed Evolution of Non-Ribosomal Peptide Synthetase Enzymes

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posted on 2021-11-15, 02:43 authored by Owen, Jeremy George

Non-ribosomal peptide synthetases (NRPS) are large, modular enzymes that synthesisebiologically active secondary metabolites from amino acid precursors without the need for anucleic acid template. NRPS play an integral role in microbial physiology and also havepotential applications in the synthesis of novel peptide molecules. Both of these aspects areexamined in this thesis.

Under conditions of iron starvation Pseudomonas syringae synthesises siderophores for activeuptake of iron. The primary siderophore of P. syringae is pyoverdine, a fluorescent moleculethat is assembled from amino acid (aa) precursors by NRPS. Five putative pyoverdine NRPSgenes in P. syringae pv. phaseolicola 1448a (Ps1448a) were identified and characterised insilico and their role in pyoverdine biosynthesis was confirmed by gene knockout. Creation ofpyoverdine null Ps1448a enabled identification of a previously uncharacterised temperatureregulatedsecondary siderophore, achromobactin, which is NRPS independent and has loweraffinity for iron. Pyoverdine and achromobactin null mutants were characterised in regard toiron uptake, virulence and growth in iron-limited conditions. Determination of the substratespecificity for the seven adenylation (A) domains of the Ps1448a pyoverdine sidechain NRPSwas also attempted. Although ultimately unsuccessful, these attempts provided a rigorousassessment of methods for the expression, purification and biochemical characterisation of Adomains.

The Ps1448a NRPS were subsequently employed in domain swapping experiments to testcondensation (C) domain specificity for aa substrates during peptide formation in vivo.

Experiments in which the terminal C- and/or A-domain of the Pseudomonas aeruginosa(PAO1) pyoverdine NRPS system were replaced with alternative domains from Ps1448a andPAO1 were consistent with previous in vitro observations that C-domains exhibit strongsidechain and stereo-selectivity at the downstream aa position, but only stereo-selectivity atthe upstream aa position.

These results prompted investigation into the role of inter-domain communication in NRPSfunction, to test the hypothesis that the thiolation (T) domain enters into specific interactionswith other domains, which might provide an alternative explanation for the diminished activityof recombinant NRPS enzymes. A recently characterised single-module NRPS, bpsA, waschosen as a reporter gene for these experiments based on its ability to generate blue pigment inEscherichia coli. Substitution of the native bpsA T-domain consistently impaired function,consistent with the hypothesis. It was shown that directed evolution could be applied to restorefunction in substituted T-domains. Mutations that restored function were mapped in silico, anda structural model for interaction between the thioester (TE) and T-domain of BpsA wasderived.

The utility of bpsA for discovery and characterisation of phosphopantetheinyl transferase(PPTase) enzymes was also investigated. In vivo and in vitro assays for determination ofPPTase activity were developed and a high-throughput screen for discovery of new PPTases inenvironmental DNA libraries was successfully implemented.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Biological Sciences


Ackerley, David