Engineering the plant cell factory for secondary metabolite production

Transgenic Res. 2000;9(4-5):323-43; discussion 321. doi: 10.1023/a:1008966404981.


Plant secondary metabolism is very important for traits such as flower color, flavor of food, and resistance against pests and diseases. Moreover, it is the source of many fine chemicals such as drugs, dyes, flavors, and fragrances. It is thus of interest to be able to engineer the secondary metabolite production of the plant cell factory, e.g. to produce more of a fine chemical, to produce less of a toxic compound, or even to make new compounds, Engineering of plant secondary metabolism is feasible nowadays, but it requires knowledge of the biosynthetic pathways involved. To increase secondary metabolite production different strategies can be followed, such as overcoming rate limiting steps, reducing flux through competitive pathways, reducing catabolism and overexpression of regulatory genes. For this purpose genes of plant origin can be overexpressed, but also microbial genes have been used successfully. Overexpression of plant genes in microorganisms is another approach, which might be of interest for bioconversion of readily available precursors into valuable fine chemicals. Several examples will be given to illustrate these various approaches. The constraints of metabolic engineering of the plant cell factory will also be discussed. Our limited knowledge of secondary metabolite pathways and the genes involved is one of the main bottlenecks.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bioreactors
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Genes, Plant / genetics
  • Genetic Engineering / methods*
  • Plant Cells
  • Plants / chemistry*
  • Plants / genetics*
  • Transformation, Genetic
  • Yeasts / genetics