The consumption of sweeteners, natural as well as synthetic sugars, is implicated in an array of modern-day health problems. Therefore, natural nonsugar sweeteners are of increasing interest. We identify here the biosynthetic pathway of the sweet triterpenoid glycoside mogroside V, which has a sweetening strength of 250 times that of sucrose and is derived from mature fruit of luo-han-guo (Siraitia grosvenorii, monk fruit). A whole-genome sequencing of Siraitia, leading to a preliminary draft of the genome, was combined with an extensive transcriptomic analysis of developing fruit. A functional expression survey of nearly 200 candidate genes identified the members of the five enzyme families responsible for the synthesis of mogroside V: squalene epoxidases, triterpenoid synthases, epoxide hydrolases, cytochrome P450s, and UDP-glucosyltransferases. Protein modeling and docking studies corroborated the experimentally proven functional enzyme activities and indicated the order of the metabolic steps in the pathway. A comparison of the genomic organization and expression patterns of these Siraitia genes with the orthologs of other Cucurbitaceae implicates a strikingly coordinated expression of the pathway in the evolution of this species-specific and valuable metabolic pathway. The genomic organization of the pathway genes, syntenously preserved among the Cucurbitaceae, indicates, on the other hand, that gene clustering cannot account for this novel secondary metabolic pathway.
Keywords: functional genomics; metabolic pathway discovery; mogrosides.