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A Complex Ergovaline Gene Cluster in Epichloë Endophytes of Grasses

Fleetwood, Damien J., Scott, Barry, Lane, Geoffrey A., Tanaka, Aiko, Johnson, Richard D.
Applied and environmental microbiology 2007 v.73 no.8 pp. 2571-2579
endophytes, grasses, retrotransposons, biosynthesis, Epichloe festucae var. lolii, ingestion, symbiosis, mycelium, DNA, axenic culture, ergovaline, livestock, Aspergillus fumigatus, Neotyphodium, multigene family, Claviceps purpurea, transposons, poisoning, fungi
Clavicipitaceous fungal endophytes of the genera Epichloë and Neotyphodium form symbioses with grasses of the subfamily Pooideae, in which they can synthesize an array of bioprotective alkaloids. Some strains produce the ergopeptine alkaloid ergovaline, which is implicated in livestock toxicoses caused by ingestion of endophyte-infected grasses. Cloning and analysis of a nonribosomal peptide synthetase (NRPS) gene from Neotyphodium lolii revealed a putative gene cluster for ergovaline biosynthesis containing a single-module NRPS gene, lpsB, and other genes orthologous to genes in the ergopeptine gene cluster of Claviceps purpurea and the clavine cluster of Aspergillus fumigatus. Despite conservation of gene sequence, gene order is substantially different between the N. lolii, C. purpurea, and A. fumigatus ergot alkaloid gene clusters. Southern analysis indicated that the N. lolii cluster was linked with previously identified ergovaline biosynthetic genes dmaW and lpsA. The ergovaline genes are closely associated with transposon relics, including retrotransposons and autonomous and nonautonomous DNA transposons. All genes in the cluster were highly expressed in planta, but expression was very low or undetectable in mycelia from axenic culture. This work provides a genetic foundation for elucidating biochemical steps in the ergovaline pathway, the ecological role of individual ergot alkaloid compounds, and the regulation of their synthesis in planta.