May 5, 2007

Actinomycetes, natural drug factories

Actinomycetes are Gram-positive bacteria with a high GC-content in their DNA. Among others, representative genera include Corynebacterium, Micrococcus, Mycobacterium, Nocardia, Propionibacterium, and Streptomyces. Many actinomycetes, such as Streptomyces, grow as branching filaments and live in soil, as fungi do. Because of this resemblance, actinomycetes were originally classified as fungi. This was reflected on their name, where "mycetes" comes from the Greek for "mushroom, fungus".

Some actinomycetes are pathogenic, such as
Mycobacterium tuberculosis. However, many others are extremely useful due to their ability to produce compounds with pharmaceutical properties (antibiotic, antifungal, antitumor, immunosuppressive). The genus Streptomyces is well known precisely for this ability.

In this blog, I intend to post mainly about the biology of actinomycetes, especially those aspects related to the biosynthesis of natural products of pharmaceutical interest. However, I may occasionally deviate from the primary theme. There might be some microbiology, some biochemistry, some chemical biology, some genetics...

Oh, about the title: "Twisted Bacteria". No, it's not that they are "perverted" (although some times we researchers in the field may think so...). The title was inspired by the word "
Streptomyces", where "strepto" comes from the Greek for "twisted, twined".

(Image: Streptomyces sp. under the microscope. CDC/Dr. David Berd, Public Health Image Library)

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