Phosphonates are rare and unusually bioactive natural products. However, most bacterial phosphonate biosynthetic capacity is dedicated to tailoring cell surfaces with molecules like 2-aminoethylphosphonate (AEP). Although phosphoenolpyruvate mutase (Ppm)-catalyzed installation of C-P bonds is known, subsequent phosphonyl tailoring (Pnt) pathway steps remain enigmatic. Here we identify nucleotidyltransferases in over two-thirds of phosphonate biosynthetic gene clusters, including direct fusions to ~60% of Ppm enzymes. We characterize two putative phosphonyl tailoring cytidylyltransferases (PntCs) that prefer AEP over phosphocholine (P-Cho) – a similar substrate used by the related enzyme LicC, which is a virulence factor in Streptococcus pneumoniae. PntC structural analyses reveal steric discrimination against phosphocholine. These findings highlight nucleotidyl activation as a predominant chemical logic in phosphonate biosynthesis and set the stage for probing diverse phosphonyl tailoring pathways.
- X-ray crystallography