Chemistry and biotechnology of carotenoids

Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2010 Sep;50(8):728-60. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2010.499811.


Carotenoids are one of the most widespread groups of pigments in nature and more than 600 of these have been identified. Beside provitamin A activity, carotenoids are important as antioxidants and protective agents against various diseases. They are isoprenoids with a long polyene chain containing 3 to 15 conjugated double bonds, which determines their absorption spectrum. Cyclization at one or both ends occurs in hydrocarbon carotene, while xanthophylls are formed by the introduction of oxygen. In addition, modifications involving chain elongation, isomerization, or degradation are also found. The composition of carotenoids in food may vary depending upon production practices, post-harvest handling, processing, and storage. In higher plants they are synthesized in the plastid. Both mevalonate dependent and independent pathway for the formation of isopentenyl diphosphate are known. Isopentenyl diphosphate undergoes a series of addition and condensation reactions to form phytoene, which gets converted to lycopene. Cyclization of lycopene either leads to the formation of β-carotene and its derivative xanthophylls, β-cryptoxanthin, zeaxanthin, antheraxanthin, and violaxanthin or α-carotene and lutein. Even though most of the carotenoid biosynthetic genes have been cloned and identified, some aspects of carotenoid formation and manipulation in higher plants especially remain poorly understood. In order to enhance the carotenoid content of crop plants to a level that will be required for the prevention of diseases, there is a need for research in both the basic and the applied aspects.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antioxidants
  • Biological Availability
  • Carotenoids / biosynthesis
  • Carotenoids / chemistry*
  • Carotenoids / genetics*
  • Crops, Agricultural / chemistry
  • Crops, Agricultural / genetics
  • Diet
  • Food Handling
  • Food Preservation
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Genetic Engineering*
  • Health Promotion
  • Humans
  • Molecular Structure
  • Plants, Edible / chemistry
  • Plants, Edible / genetics
  • Plants, Genetically Modified


  • Antioxidants
  • Carotenoids