Biosynthesis of a broad-spectrum nicotianamine-like metallophore in Staphylococcus aureus

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Science  27 May 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6289, pp. 1105-1109
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf1018

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A new metal scavenger for bacteria

All cells must find a way to acquire trace metals. Bacteria and plants scavenge iron, for instance, by synthesizing and releasing iron-chelating compounds called siderophores. Ghssein et al. describe three enzymes in Staphylococcus aureus that are responsible for the biosynthesis of another type of metallophore (see the Perspective by Nolan). Metabolomics and a range of biochemical assays show that this compound, named staphylopine, is involved in the uptake of a range of metals, depending on the growth environment. The genes required for staphylopine biosynthesis are conserved across a number of pathogenic bacteria and are similar to those for a broad-spectrum metallophore produced by plants.

Science, this issue p. 1105; see also p. 1055


Metal acquisition is a vital microbial process in metal-scarce environments, such as inside a host. Using metabolomic exploration, targeted mutagenesis, and biochemical analysis, we discovered an operon in Staphylococcus aureus that encodes the different functions required for the biosynthesis and trafficking of a broad-spectrum metallophore related to plant nicotianamine (here called staphylopine). The biosynthesis of staphylopine reveals the association of three enzyme activities: a histidine racemase, an enzyme distantly related to nicotianamine synthase, and a staphylopine dehydrogenase belonging to the DUF2338 family. Staphylopine is involved in nickel, cobalt, zinc, copper, and iron acquisition, depending on the growth conditions. This biosynthetic pathway is conserved across other pathogens, thus underscoring the importance of this metal acquisition strategy in infection.

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