Production of bioactive plant secondary metabolites through in vitro technologies-status and outlook

Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 2021 Sep;105(18):6649-6668. doi: 10.1007/s00253-021-11539-w. Epub 2021 Sep 1.


Medicinal plants have been used by mankind since ancient times, and many bioactive plant secondary metabolites are applied nowadays both directly as drugs, and as raw materials for semi-synthetic modifications. However, the structural complexity often thwarts cost-efficient chemical synthesis, and the usually low content in the native plant necessitates the processing of large amounts of field-cultivated raw material. The biotechnological manufacturing of such compounds offers a number of advantages like predictable, stable, and year-round sustainable production, scalability, and easier extraction and purification. Plant cell and tissue culture represents one possible alternative to the extraction of phytochemicals from plant material. Although a broad commercialization of such processes has not yet occurred, ongoing research indicates that plant in vitro systems such as cell suspension cultures, organ cultures, and transgenic hairy roots hold a promising potential as sources for bioactive compounds. Progress in the areas of biosynthetic pathway elucidation and genetic manipulation has expanded the possibilities to utilize plant metabolic engineering and heterologous production in microorganisms. This review aims to summarize recent advances in the in vitro production of high-value plant secondary metabolites of medicinal importance.Key points• Bioactive plant secondary metabolites are important for current and future use in medicine• In vitro production is a sustainable alternative to extraction from plants or costly chemical synthesis• Current research addresses plant cell and tissue culture, metabolic engineering, and heterologous production.

Keywords: Cell suspension; Hairy roots; Heterologous production; Plant secondary metabolites; Plant tissue culture.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biotechnology
  • Phytochemicals
  • Plant Cells
  • Plant Roots*
  • Plants, Medicinal*


  • Phytochemicals