Redesigning thiamin synthesis: Prospects and potential payoffs

Plant Sci. 2018 Aug:273:92-99. doi: 10.1016/j.plantsci.2018.01.019. Epub 2018 Feb 5.


Thiamin is essential for plant growth but is short-lived in vivo and energetically very costly to produce - a combination that makes thiamin biosynthesis a prime target for improvement by redesign. Thiamin consists of thiazole and pyrimidine moieties. Its high biosynthetic cost stems from use of the suicide enzyme THI4 to form the thiazole and the near-suicide enzyme THIC to form the pyrimidine. These energetic costs lower biomass yield potential and are likely compounded by environmental stresses that destroy thiamin and hence increase the rate at which it must be made. The energy costs could be slashed by refactoring the thiamin biosynthesis pathway to eliminate the suicidal THI4 and THIC reactions. To substantiate this design concept, we first document the energetic costs of the THI4 and THIC steps in the pathway and explain how cutting these costs could substantially increase crop biomass and grain yields. We then show that a refactored pathway must produce thiamin itself rather than a stripped-down analog because the thiamin molecule cannot be simplified without losing biological activity. Lastly, we consider possible energy-efficient alternatives to the inefficient natural THI4- and THIC-mediated steps.

Keywords: Maintenance respiration; Metabolic engineering; Synthetic biology; Thiamin; Vitamin B(1).

MeSH terms

  • Metabolic Engineering*
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways*
  • Oxygen / metabolism*
  • Plants / genetics
  • Plants / metabolism*
  • Pyrimidines / chemistry
  • Pyrimidines / metabolism
  • Synthetic Biology*
  • Thiamine / chemistry
  • Thiamine / metabolism*
  • Thiazoles / chemistry
  • Thiazoles / metabolism


  • Pyrimidines
  • Thiazoles
  • pyrimidine
  • Oxygen
  • Thiamine