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Keywords:

  • Alkaloids;
  • Isoprenoids;
  • Metabolic engineering;
  • Phenylpropanoids;
  • Plant natural products

Abstract

The diversity of plant natural product (PNP) molecular structures is reflected in the variety of biochemical and genetic pathways that lead to their formation and accumulation. Plant secondary metabolites are important commodities, and include fragrances, colorants, and medicines. Increasing the extractable amount of PNP through plant breeding, or more recently by means of metabolic engineering, is a priority. The prerequisite for any attempt at metabolic engineering is a detailed knowledge of the underlying biosynthetic and regulatory pathways in plants. Over the past few decades, an enormous body of information about the biochemistry and genetics of biosynthetic pathways involved in PNPs production has been generated. In this review, we focus on the three large classes of plant secondary metabolites: terpenoids (or isoprenoids), phenylpropanoids, and alkaloids. All three provide excellent examples of the tremendous efforts undertaken to boost our understanding of biosynthetic pathways, resulting in the first successes in plant metabolic engineering. We further consider what essential information is still missing, and how future research directions could help achieve the rational design of plants as chemical factories for high-value products.