Fungal Metabolites


The fungi are a kingdom of organisms as complex and diverse as plants and animals with an estimated 1.5 million species, of which only about 10% have been named and described. The diversity of fungi is reflected in the diversity of fungal metabolites which are the products of secondary metabolism. The biosynthetic pathways are also diverse including polyketides, sesquiterpenes and diterpenes, diketopiperazines, cyclic peptides, β‐lactams and combinations of these pathways. Many of these compounds have biological activity which may be harmful, such as mycotoxins and phytotoxins, or beneficial such as antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals. The structure of many of these relatively low molecular weight compounds has often been a challenge to the natural products chemist but the continuing development of mass spectroscopy, nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometry with increasingly sophisticated methods of chromatography have led to the continuing discovery of novel fungal metabolites.

Key Concepts:

  • Fungal secondary metabolism is both diverse and distinct.

  • Secondary metabolism is linked to primary metabolism by a common pool of intermediates such as acetyl‐CoA, mevalonate and amino acids.

  • Penicillins, cephalosporins and griseofulvin are widely used antibiotics.

  • Mycotoxins such as aflatoxin, ochratoxin and patulin are controlled in human foodstuffs by legislation.

  • The majority of plants have endophytic fungi some of which produce useful metabolites.

Keywords: fungi; secondary metabolites; antibiotics; mycotoxins; phytotoxins; carcinogenic; nephrotoxic; immunosuppresive

Figure 1.

Primary and secondary metabolism from the same pool of intermediates. CoA, coenzyme A.

Figure 2.

Examples of secondary metabolites derived from the pool of intermediates. CoA, coenzyme A.

Figure 3.

Metabolism of aflatoxin B1 in the animal liver.



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Further Reading

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Desjardin AE (2006) Fusarium Mycotoxins: Chemistry, Genetics, and Biology. St Paul, MN: APS Press.

Diaz D (ed.) (2005) The Mycotoxin Blue Book. Nottingham: University Press.

Hunter PA, Darby GK and Russell NJ (eds) (1995) Fifty Years of Antimicrobials: Past Perspectives and Future Trends. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jackson LS, De Vries JW and Bullerman LB (eds) (1996) Fumonisins in Food. New York: Plenum Press.

Jennings DH and Rayner ADM (eds) (1984) The Ecology and Physiology of the Fungal Mycelium. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Steyn PS (ed.) (1980) The Biosynthesis of Mycotoxins: A Study in Secondary Metabolism. New York: Academic Press.

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Moss, Maurice O(Aug 2011) Fungal Metabolites. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0000360.pub2]