Secondary metabolites are often considered within the remit of bacterial or plant research, but animals also contain a plethora of these molecules with important functional roles. Classical feeding studies demonstrate that, whereas some are derived from diet, many of these compounds are made within the animals. In the past 15 years, the genetic and biochemical origin of several animal natural products has been traced to partnerships with symbiotic bacteria. More recently, a number of animal genome-encoded pathways to microbe-like natural products have come to light. These pathways are sometimes horizontally acquired from bacteria, but more commonly they unveil a new and diverse animal biochemistry. In this review, we highlight recent examples of characterized animal biosynthetic enzymes that reveal an unanticipated breadth and intricacy in animal secondary metabolism. The results so far suggest that there may be an immense diversity of animal small molecules and biosynthetic enzymes awaiting discovery. This biosynthetic dark matter is just beginning to be understood, providing a relatively untapped frontier for discovery.
JBC by Torres and Schmidt