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Evolution of Secondary Plant Metabolism

  1. Michael Wink

Published Online: 15 DEC 2008

DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0001922.pub2



How to Cite

Wink, M. 2008. Evolution of Secondary Plant Metabolism. eLS. .

Author Information

  1. University of Heidelberg, Institute of Pharmacy and Molecular Biotechnology, Heidelberg, Germany

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 DEC 2008

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The biosynthesis of secondary metabolites (SM), which are important for the fitness of the plants as defence and signal compounds, occurs universally in higher plants and shows very high structural diversity. Their evolution in higher plants rests on variation in the enzymatic manipulation of a relatively small number of primary precursors. Evidence is presented that at least some of the genes encoding key enzymes of biosynthesis probably have reached plants by ancient horizontal gene transfer (HGT), for example from protobacteria or cyanobacteria which later became mitochondria and plastids. Another source of SM can be ectomycorrhizal and endophytic fungi; they can directly provide plants with defence compounds or might have transferred their pathway genes into the genome of their host plants times ago.


  • secondary metabolites;
  • distribution;
  • evolutionary changes;
  • horizontal gene transfer