A Customizable Approach for the Enzymatic Production and Purification of Diterpenoid Natural Products

J Vis Exp. 2019 Oct 4;(152). doi: 10.3791/59992.


Diterpenoids form a diverse class of small molecule natural products that are widely distributed across the kingdoms of life and have critical biological functions in developmental processes, interorganismal interactions, and environmental adaptation. Due to these various bioactivities, many diterpenoids are also of economic importance as pharmaceuticals, food additives, biofuels, and other bioproducts. Advanced genomics and biochemical approaches have enabled a rapid increase in the knowledge of diterpenoid-metabolic genes, enzymes, and pathways. However, the structural complexity of diterpenoids and the narrow taxonomic distribution of individual compounds in often only a single species remain constraining factors for their efficient production. Availability of a broader range of metabolic enzymes now provide resources for producing diterpenoids in sufficient titers and purity to facilitate a deeper investigation of this important metabolite group. Drawing on established tools for microbial and plant-based enzyme co-expression, we present an easily operated and customizable protocol for the enzymatic production of diterpenoids in either Escherichia coli or Nicotiana benthamiana, and the purification of desired products via silica chromatography and semi-preparative HPLC. Using the group of maize (Zea mays) dolabralexin diterpenoids as an example, we highlight how modular combinations of diterpene synthase (diTPS) and cytochrome P450 monooxygenase (P450) enzymes can be used to generate different diterpenoid scaffolds. Purified compounds can be used in various downstream applications, such as metabolite structural analyses, enzyme structure-function studies, and in vitro and in planta bioactivity experiments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Video-Audio Media

MeSH terms

  • Biological Products / chemistry*
  • Diterpenes / chemistry*


  • Biological Products
  • Diterpenes