Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Biological and Irrigation Engineering


Jixun Zhan


Polyketides are a large group of structurally diverse natural products that have shown a variety of biological activities. These molecules are synthesized by polyketide synthases (PKSs). PKSs are classified into three types based on their sequence, primary structure, and catalytic mechanism. Because of the bioactivities of polyketide natural products, this study is focused on the engineering of PKS pathways for efficient production of useful bioactive molecules or structural modification to create new molecules for drug development.

One goal of this research is to create an efficient method to produce pharmaceutically important molecules. Seven biosynthetic genes from plants and bacteria were used to establish a variety of complete biosynthetic pathways in Escherichia coli to make valuable plant natural products, including four phenylpropanoid acids, three bioactive natural stilbenoids, and three natural curcuminoids. A curcumin analog dicafferolmethane was synthesized by removing a methyltransferase from the curcumin biosynthetic pathway. Furthermore, introduction of a fungal flavin-dependent halogenase into the resveratrol biosynthetic pathway yielded a novel chlorinated molecule 2-chloro-resveratrol. This demonstrated that biosynthetic enzymes from different sources can be recombined like legos to make various plant natural products, which is more efficient (2-3 days) than traditional extraction from plants (months to years). Phenylalanine ammonia-lyase (PAL) is a key enzyme involved in the first biosynthetic step of some plant phenylpropanoids. Based on the biosynthetic pathway of curcuminoids, a novel and efficient visible reporter assay was established for screening of phenylalanine ammonia-lyase (PAL) efficiency in Escherichia coli.

The other goal of this research is to characterize and engineer natural product biosynthetic pathways for new bioactive molecules. The biosynthetic gene cluster of the antibacterial compound dutomycin was discovered from Streptomyces minoensis NRRL B-5482 through genome sequencing. Confirmation of the involvement of this gene cluster in dutomycin biosynthesis and creation of a series of new molecules were successfully conducted by rationally modifying the biosynthetic pathway. More importantly, a new demethylated analog of dutomycin was found to have much higher antibacterial activity against Staphylococcus aureus and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.