A biochemical interpretation of terpene chemotypes in Melaleuca alternifolia

J Chem Ecol. 2010 Jun;36(6):652-61. doi: 10.1007/s10886-010-9798-y. Epub 2010 May 29.


The variation of foliar monoterpenes in the Australian Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) has been of significant interest both to the essential oil industry as well as to ecologists. The majority of studies on leaf chemistry have been aimed directly towards obtaining oil of higher quality or quantity. In the current study, we aimed to understand how molecular mechanisms contribute to the chemical variability of this species, based on chemical analysis of the leaf oils from a biochemical perspective. Correlations between monoterpenes across the species as well as within chemotypes show strong, persistent patterns, which enable us to establish groups based on possible common biosynthetic origins. We found that three distinct enzymes corresponding to these groups: a sabinene-hydrate synthase, a 1,8-cineole synthase, and a terpinolene synthase may be sufficient to explain all six chemotypes in M. alternifolia.

MeSH terms

  • Alkyl and Aryl Transferases / metabolism
  • Carbon-Carbon Lyases / metabolism
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Intramolecular Lyases / metabolism
  • Melaleuca / chemistry*
  • Monoterpenes / chemistry*
  • Plant Leaves / chemistry
  • Plant Oils / chemistry
  • Plant Proteins / metabolism
  • Sesquiterpenes / chemistry


  • Monoterpenes
  • Plant Oils
  • Plant Proteins
  • Sesquiterpenes
  • Alkyl and Aryl Transferases
  • terpene synthase
  • 1,8-cineole synthetase
  • Carbon-Carbon Lyases
  • Intramolecular Lyases
  • geranyl pyrophosphate-sabinene hydrate cyclase