Of more than 200,000 plant natural products known to date, many demonstrate important pharmacological activities or are of biotechnological significance. However, isolation from natural sources is usually limited by low abundance and environmental, seasonal as well as regional variation, whereas total chemical synthesis is typically commercially unfeasible considering the complex structures of most plant natural products. With advances in DNA sequencing and recombinant DNA technology many of the biosynthetic pathways responsible for the production of these valuable compounds have been elucidated, offering the opportunity of a functional integration of biosynthetic pathways in suitable microorganisms. This approach offers promise to provide sufficient quantities of the desired plant natural products from inexpensive renewable resources. This review covers recent advancements in the metabolic engineering of microorganisms for the production of plant natural products such as isoprenoids, phenylpropanoids and alkaloids, and highlights general approaches and strategies to gain access to the rich biochemical diversity of plants by employing the biosynthetic power of microorganisms.
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