Subtelomeric assembly of a multi-gene pathway for antimicrobial defense compounds in cereals

Yan Li, Aymeric Leveau, Qiang Zhao, Qi Feng, Hengyun Lu, Jiashun Miao, Zheyong Xue, Azahara C. Martin, Eva Wegel, Jing Wang, Anastasia Orme, Maria Dolores Rey, Miroslava Karafiátová, Jan Vrána, Burkhard Steuernagel, Ryan Joynson, Charlotte Owen, James Reed, Thomas Louveau, Michael J. StephensonLei Zhang, Xuehui Huang, Tao Huang, Danling Fan, Congcong Zhou, Qilin Tian, Wenjun Li, Yiqi Lu, Jiaying Chen, Yan Zhao, Ying Lu, Chuanrang Zhu, Zhenhua Liu, Guy Polturak, Rebecca Casson, Lionel Hill, Graham Moore, Rachel Melton, Neil Hall, Brande B.H. Wulff, Jaroslav Doležel, Tim Langdon, Bin Han*, Anne Osbourn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Citations (SciVal)
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Non-random gene organization in eukaryotes plays a significant role in genome evolution. Here, we investigate the origin of a biosynthetic gene cluster for production of defence compounds in oat—the avenacin cluster. We elucidate the structure and organisation of this 12-gene cluster, characterise the last two missing pathway steps, and reconstitute the entire pathway in tobacco by transient expression. We show that the cluster has formed de novo since the divergence of oats in a subtelomeric region of the genome that lacks homology with other grasses, and that gene order is approximately colinear with the biosynthetic pathway. We speculate that the positioning of the late pathway genes furthest away from the telomere may mitigate against a ‘self-poisoning’ scenario in which toxic intermediates accumulate as a result of telomeric gene deletions. Our investigations reveal a striking example of adaptive evolution underpinned by remarkable genome plasticity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2563
Number of pages13
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Early online date07 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - 01 Dec 2021


  • Avena/genetics
  • Disease Resistance/genetics
  • Edible Grain/genetics
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing
  • In Situ Hybridization, Fluorescence
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways/genetics
  • Multigene Family
  • RNA-Seq
  • Repetitive Sequences, Nucleic Acid
  • Saponins/biosynthesis
  • Synteny/genetics
  • Telomere/genetics
  • Tobacco/metabolism
  • Whole Genome Sequencing
  • Nicotiana/metabolism


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