Genomic data often highlights an inconsistency between the number of gene clusters identified using bioinformatic approaches as potentially producing secondary metabolites and the actual number of chemically characterized secondary metabolites produced by any given microorganism. Such gene clusters are generally considered as “silent”, meaning that they are not expressed under laboratory conditions. Triggering expression of these “silent” clusters could result in unlocking the chemical diversity they control, allowing the discovery of novel molecules of both medical and biotechnological interest. Therefore, both genetic and cultivation-based techniques have been developed aimed at stimulating expression of these “silent” genes. The principles behind the cultivation based approaches have been conceptualized in the “one strain many compounds” (OSMAC) framework, which underlines how a single strain can produce different molecules when grown under different environmental conditions. Parameters such as, nutrient content, temperature, and rate of aeration can be easily changed, altering the global physiology of a microbial strain and in turn significantly affecting its secondary metabolism. As a direct extension of such approaches, co-cultivation strategies and the addition of chemical elicitors have also been used as cues to activate “silent” clusters. In this review, we aim to provide a focused and comprehensive overview of these strategies as they pertain to marine microbes. Moreover, we underline how changes in some parameters which have provided important results in terrestrial microbes, but which have rarely been considered in marine microorganisms, may represent additional strategies to awaken “silent” gene clusters in marine microbes. Unfortunately, the empirical nature of the OSMAC approach forces scientists to perform extensive laboratory experiments. Nevertheless, we believe that some computation and experimental based techniques which are used in other disciplines, and which we discuss; could be effectively employed to help streamline the OSMAC based approaches. We believe that natural products discovery in marine microorganisms would be greatly aided through the integration of basic microbiological approaches, computational methods, and technological innovations, thereby helping unearth much of the as yet untapped potential of these microorganisms.
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