Diversity of Bacterial Secondary Metabolite Biosynthetic Gene Clusters in Three Vietnamese Sponges

Ton That Huu Dat*, Georg Steinert, Nguyen Thi Kim Cuc, Pham Viet Cuong, Hauke Smidt, Detmer Sipkema

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Recent reviews have reinforced sponge-associated bacteria as a valuable source of structurally diverse secondary metabolites with potent biological properties, which makes these microbial communities promising sources of new drug candidates. However, the overall diversity of secondary metabolite biosynthetic potential present in bacteria is difficult to access due to the fact that the majority of bacteria are not readily cultured in the laboratory. Thus, use of cultivation-independent approaches may allow accessing “silent” and “cryptic” secondary metabolite biosynthetic gene clusters present in bacteria that cannot yet be cultured. In the present study, we investigated the diversity of secondary metabolite biosynthetic gene clusters (BGCs) in metagenomes of bacterial communities associated with three sponge species: Clathria reinwardti, Rhabdastrella globostellata, and Spheciospongia sp. The results reveal that the three metagenomes contain a high number of predicted BGCs, ranging from 282 to 463 BGCs per metagenome. The types of BGCs were diverse and represented 12 different cluster types. Clusters predicted to encode fatty acid synthases and polyketide synthases (PKS) were the most dominant BGC types, followed by clusters encoding synthesis of terpenes and bacteriocins. Based on BGC sequence similarity analysis, 363 gene cluster families (GCFs) were identified. Interestingly, no GCFs were assigned to pathways responsible for the production of known compounds, implying that the clusters detected might be responsible for production of several novel compounds. The KS gene sequences from PKS clusters were used to predict the taxonomic origin of the clusters involved. The KS sequences were related to 12 bacterial phyla with Actinobacteria, Proteobacteria, and Firmicutes as the most predominant. At the genus level, the KSs were most related to those found in the genera Mycolicibacterium, Mycobacterium, Burkholderia, and Streptomyces. Phylogenetic analysis of KS sequences resulted in detection of two known ‘sponge-specific’ BGCs, i.e., SupA and SwfA, as well as a new ‘sponge-specific’ cluster related to fatty acid synthesis in the phylum Candidatus Poribacteria and composed only by KS sequences of the three sponge-associated bacterial communities assessed here.

Original languageEnglish
Article number29
Number of pages18
JournalMarine Drugs
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 29 Dec 2022


  • biosynthetic gene cluster
  • metagenome
  • Porifera
  • secondary metabolite
  • sponge-associated bacteria


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