eLife 11 , e70936 ( 2022)
Iron-sulfur (Fe-S) clusters are ancient and ubiquitous protein cofactors and play irreplaceable roles in many metabolic and regulatory processes. Fe-S clusters are built and distributed to Fe-S enzymes by dedicated protein networks. The core components of these networks are widely conserved and highly versatile. However, Fe-S proteins and enzymes are often inactive outside their native host species. We sought to systematically investigate the compatibility of Fe-S networks with non-native Fe-S enzymes. By using collections of Fe-S enzyme orthologs representative of the entire range of prokaryotic diversity, we uncovered a striking correlation between phylogenetic distance and probability of functional expression. Moreover, coexpression of a heterologous Fe-S biogenesis pathway increases the phylogenetic range of orthologs that can be supported by the foreign host. We also find that Fe-S enzymes that require specific electron carrier proteins are rarely functionally expressed unless their taxon-specific reducing partners are identified and co-expressed. We demonstrate how these principles can be applied to improve the activity of a radical S-adenosyl methionine(rSAM) enzyme from a Streptomyces antibiotic biosynthesis pathway in Escherichia coli. Our results clarify how oxygen sensitivity and incompatibilities with foreign Fe-S and electron transfer networks each impede heterologous activity. In particular, identifying compatible electron transfer proteins and heterologous Fe-S biogenesis pathways may prove essential for engineering functional Fe-S enzyme-dependent pathways.