Combinatorial biosynthesis of small molecules in plants: Engineering strategies and tools

Methods Enzymol. 2019:617:413-442. doi: 10.1016/bs.mie.2018.12.005. Epub 2019 Jan 25.


Biosynthetic capacity of plants, rooted in a near inexhaustible supply of photosynthetic energy and founded upon an intricate matrix of metabolic networks, makes them versatile chemists producing myriad specialized compounds. Along with tremendous success in elucidation of several plant biosynthetic routes, their reestablishment in heterologous hosts has been a hallmark of recent bioengineering endeavors. However, current efforts in the field are, in the main, aimed at grafting the pathways to fermentable recipient organisms, like bacteria or yeast. Conversely, while harboring orthologous metabolic trails, select plant species now emerge as viable vehicles for mobilization and engineering of complex biosynthetic pathways. Their distinctive features, like intricate cell compartmentalization and formation of specialized production and storage structures on tissue and organ level, make plants an especially promising chassis for the manufacture of considerable amounts of high-value natural small molecules. Inspired by the fundamental tenets of synthetic biology, capitalizing on the versatility of the transient plant transformation system, and drawing on the unique compartmentation of plant cells, we explore combinatorial approaches affording production of natural and new-to-nature, bespoke chemicals of potential importance. Here, we focus on the transient engineering of P450 monooxygenases, alone or in concert with other orthogonal catalysts, like tryptophan halogenases.

Keywords: Agrobacterium-mediated transient expression; Combinatorial biosynthesis; Cytochrome P450 monooxygenase; Flavin-dependent tryptophan halogenase; GoldenBraid; Lichenase; Modular cloning; Nicotiana benthamiana; Plant metabolic engineering; Synthetic biology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Agrobacterium / genetics
  • Animals
  • Biosynthetic Pathways
  • Cloning, Molecular / methods*
  • Genes, Reporter
  • Glycoside Hydrolases / genetics
  • Metabolic Engineering / methods*
  • Nicotiana / genetics*
  • Oxidoreductases / genetics
  • Plant Leaves / genetics
  • Plants, Genetically Modified / genetics*
  • Recombinant Proteins / genetics
  • Synthetic Biology


  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Oxidoreductases
  • tryptophan halogenase
  • Glycoside Hydrolases
  • licheninase