Metabolome diversity: too few genes, too many metabolites?

Phytochemistry. 2003 Mar;62(6):837-49. doi: 10.1016/s0031-9422(02)00723-9.


The multitude of metabolites found in living organisms and the calculated, unexpected small number of genes identified during genome sequencing projects discomfit biologists. Several processes on the transcription and translation level lead to the formation of isoenzymes and can therefore explain at least parts of this surprising result. However, poor enzyme specificity may also contribute to metabolome diversity. In former studies, when enzymes were isolated from natural sources, impure protein preparations were hold responsible for broad enzyme specificity. Nowadays, highly purified enzymes are available by molecular biological methods such as heterologous expression in host organisms and they can be thoroughly analyzed. During biochemical analysis of heterologously expressed enzymes poor specificity was observed for enzymes involved in fruit ripening, e.g. in flavour and color formation. Surprisingly broad specificity was shown for the reactants in the case of alcohol acyl-CoA transferase, O-methyltransferase, glucosyltransferase, P450 monooxygenases as well as polyketide synthases and for the product in the case of monoterpene synthases. Literature data confirm the assumption of limited specificity for enzymes involved in metabolism and bioformation of secondary metabolites. It is concluded that metabolome diversity is caused by low enzyme specificity but availability of suitable substrates due to compartmentation has also taken into account.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alkyl and Aryl Transferases / metabolism
  • Glycosyltransferases / metabolism
  • Plants / enzymology
  • Plants / genetics*
  • Plants / metabolism*
  • Substrate Specificity
  • Transferases / metabolism


  • Transferases
  • Glycosyltransferases
  • Alkyl and Aryl Transferases
  • terpene synthase