The evolutionary role of secondary metabolites - a review

Rachael A. Maplestone, Martin J. Stone, Dudley H. Williams

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96 Citations (Scopus)


It is argued that organisms have evolved the ability to biosynthesise secondary metabolites ('natural products') due to the selectional advantages they obtain as a result of the functions of the compounds. Pleiotropic switching, the simultaneous expression of sporulation and antibiotic biosynthesis genes in Streptomyces, is interpreted in terms of the defense roles of antibiotics. The clustering together of antibiotic biosynthesis, regulation, and resistance genes, and in particular the staggering complexity shown in the case of the gene cluster for erythromycin A biosynthesis, implies that these genes have been selected as a group and that the antibiotics function in antagonistic capacities in nature.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)151-157
Number of pages7
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 1992
Externally publishedYes


  • Antibiotic resistance
  • biosynthesis
  • gene clusters
  • natural products
  • pleiotropic switching
  • spores

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