Polyesters in higher plants

Adv Biochem Eng Biotechnol. 2001;71:1-49. doi: 10.1007/3-540-40021-4_1.


Polyesters occur in higher plants as the structural component of the cuticle that covers the aerial parts of plants. This insoluble polymer, called cutin, attached to the epidermal cell walls is composed of interesterified hydroxy and hydroxy epoxy fatty acids. The most common chief monomers are 10,16-dihydroxy C16 acid, 18-hydroxy-9,10 epoxy C18 acid, and 9,10,18-trihydroxy C18 acid. These monomers are produced in the epidermal cells by omega hydroxylation, in-chain hydroxylation, epoxidation catalyzed by P450-type mixed function oxidase, and epoxide hydration. The monomer acyl groups are transferred to hydroxyl groups in the growing polymer at the extracellular location. The other type of polyester found in the plants is suberin, a polymeric material deposited in the cell walls of a layer or two of cells when a plant needs to erect a barrier as a result of physical or biological stress from the environment, or during development. Suberin is composed of aromatic domains derived from cinnamic acid, and aliphatic polyester domains derived from C16 and C18 cellular fatty acids and their elongation products. The polyesters can be hydrolyzed by pancreatic lipase and cutinase, a polyesterase produced by bacteria and fungi. Catalysis by cutinase involves the active serine catalytic triad. The major function of the polyester in plants is as a protective barrier against physical, chemical, and biological factors in the environment, including pathogens. Transcriptional regulation of cutinase gene in fungal pathogens is being elucidated at a molecular level. The polyesters present in agricultural waste may be used to produce high value polymers, and genetic engineering might be used to produce large quantities of such polymers in plants.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carboxylic Ester Hydrolases / metabolism
  • Cell Wall / chemistry
  • Cinnamates / chemistry
  • Dicarboxylic Acids / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids / chemistry
  • Fungi / metabolism
  • Hydroxylation
  • Lipase / metabolism
  • Lipids
  • Membrane Lipids / chemistry*
  • Models, Biological
  • Models, Chemical
  • Plant Proteins / chemistry*
  • Polyesters / chemistry*
  • Serine / metabolism
  • Transcription, Genetic


  • Cinnamates
  • Dicarboxylic Acids
  • Fatty Acids
  • Lipids
  • Membrane Lipids
  • Plant Proteins
  • Polyesters
  • cinnamic acid
  • Serine
  • cutin
  • suberin
  • Carboxylic Ester Hydrolases
  • cutinase
  • Lipase