Medicinally important secondary metabolites in recombinant microorganisms or plants: Progress in alkaloid biosynthesis

Authors

  • Holger Schäfer,

    1. Institute of Pharmacy and Molecular Biotechnology, Heidelberg University, Heidelberg, Germany
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  • Michael Wink Professor Dr.

    Corresponding author
    1. Institute of Pharmacy and Molecular Biotechnology, Heidelberg University, Heidelberg, Germany
    • Institute of Pharmacy and Molecular Biotechnology, Heidelberg University, Im Neuenheimer Feld 364, 69120 Heidelberg, Germany, Fax: +49-6221-544-884
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Abstract

Plants produce a high diversity of natural products or secondary metabolites which are important for the communication of plants with other organisms. A prominent function is the protection against herbivores and/or microbial pathogens. Some natural products are also involved in defence against abiotic stress, e.g. UV-B exposure. Many of the secondary metabolites have interesting biological properties and quite a number are of medicinal importance. Because the production of the valuable natural products, such as the anticancer drugs paclitaxel, vinblastine or camptothecin in plants is a costly process, biotechnological alternatives to produce these alkaloids more economically become increasingly important. This review provides an overview of the state of art to produce alkaloids in recombinant microorganisms, such as bacteria or yeast. Some progress has been made in metabolic engineering usually employing a single recombinant alkaloid gene. More importantly, for benzylisoquinoline, monoterpene indole and diterpene alkaloids (taxanes) as well as some terpenoids and phenolics the proof of concept for production of complex alkaloids in recombinant Escherichia coli and yeast has already been achieved. In a long-term perspective, it will probably be possible to generate gene cassettes for complete pathways, which could then be used for production of valuable natural products in bioreactors or for metabolic engineering of crop plants. This will improve their resistance against herbivores and/or microbial pathogens.

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