Metabolic gene clusters in eukaryotes

Hans Wilhelm Nützmann, Claudio Scazzocchio, Anne Osbourn

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

103 Citations (SciVal)


In bacteria, more than half of the genes in the genome are organized in operons. In contrast, in eukaryotes, functionally related genes are usually dispersed across the genome. There are, however, numerous examples of functional clusters of nonhomologous genes for metabolic pathways in fungi and plants. Despite superficial similarities with operons (physical clustering, coordinate regulation), these clusters have not usually originated by horizontal gene transfer from bacteria, and (unlike operons) the genes are typically transcribed separately rather than as a single polycistronic message. This clustering phenomenon raises intriguing questions about the origins of clustered metabolic pathways in eukaryotes and the significance of clustering for pathway function. Here we review metabolic gene clusters from fungi and plants, highlight commonalities and differences, and consider how these clusters form and are regulated. We also identify opportunities for future research in the areas of large-scale genomics, synthetic biology, and experimental evolution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)159-183
Number of pages25
JournalAnnual Review of Genetics
Publication statusPublished - 23 Nov 2018


  • biosynthesis
  • fungi
  • genome architecture
  • natural products
  • plants
  • regulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics


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