Secondary Metabolites: Source of Antibiotics


Metabolites are the intermediates and products of metabolism and are usually restricted to small molecules. The term “secondary” introduced by A. Kossel in 1891 implies that while primary metabolites are present in every living cell capable of dividing, the secondary metabolites are present only incidentally and are not of paramount significance for organism’s life.

Though secondary metabolites are derived from primary metabolism, they do not make up basic molecular skeleton of the organism. Its absence does not immediately curtail the life of an organism, a feature contrary to primary metabolite, but survival of the organism is impaired to a larger extent. Its presence and synthesis are observed in ecologically disadvantaged species within a phylogenetic group.

The difference between primary and secondary metabolite is ambiguous since many of the intermediates in primary metabolism is overlapping with the intermediates of secondary metabolites. Amino acids though considered a product of primary metabolite are definitely secondary metabolite too.

Secondary metabolites or natural products can be defined as a heterogeneous group of natural metabolic products that are not essential for vegetative growth of the producing organisms, but they are considered differentiation compounds conferring adaptive roles, for example, by functioning as defense compounds or signalling molecules in ecological interactions, symbiosis, metal transport, competition, and so on.

The multitude of secondary metabolite secretions is harvested by human kind to improve their health (antibiotics, enzyme inhibitors, immunomodulators, antitumor agents, and growth promoters of animals and plants), widen the pyramid of healthy nutrition (pigments and nutraceuticals), enhancing agricultural productivity (pesticides, insecticides, effectors of ecological competition and symbiosis and pheromones), and hence impacting economics our society in a certain positive way. They are a source of antibiotics.

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