Directed evolution can rapidly improve the activity of chimeric assembly-line enzymes

Michael A. Fischbach, Jonathan R. Lai, Eric D. Roche, Christopher T. Walsh, David R. Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

118 Scopus citations


Nonribosomal peptides (NRPs) are produced by NRP synthetase (NRPS) enzymes that function as molecular assembly lines. The modular architecture of NRPSs suggests that a domain responsible for activating a building block could be replaced with a domain from a foreign NRPS to create a chimeric assembly line that produces a new variant of a natural NRP. However, such chimeric NRPS modules are often heavily impaired, impeding efforts to create novel NRP variants by swapping domains from different modules or organisms. Here we show that impaired chimeric NRPSs can be functionally restored by directed evolution. Using rounds of mutagenesis coupled with in vivo screens for NRP production, we rapidly isolated variants of two different chimeric NRPSs with 10-fold improvements in enzyme activity and product yield, including one that produces new derivatives of the potent NRP/polyketide antibiotic andrimid. Because functional restoration in these examples required only modest library sizes (103 to 104 clones) and three or fewer rounds of screening, our approach may be widely applicable even for NRPSs from genetically challenging hosts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11951-11956
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number29
StatePublished - Jul 17 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Nonribosomal peptide
  • Polyketide

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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