Plants biosynthesize a great diversity of biologically active small molecules of interest for fragrances, flavors, and pharmaceuticals. Among specialized metabolites, terpenoids represent the greatest molecular diversity. Many terpenoids are very complex, and total chemical synthesis often requires many steps and difficult chemical reactions, resulting in a low final yield or incorrect stereochemistry. Several drug candidates with terpene skeletons are difficult to obtain by chemical synthesis due to their large number of chiral centers. Thus, biological production remains the preferred method for industrial production for many of these compounds. However, because these chemicals are often found in low abundance in the native plant, or are produced in plants which are difficult to cultivate, there is great interest in engineering increased production or expression of the biosynthetic pathways in heterologous hosts. Although there are many examples of successful engineering of microbes such as yeast or bacteria to produce these compounds, this often requires extensive changes to the host organism's metabolism. Optimization of plant gene expression, post-translational protein modifications, subcellular localization, and other factors often present challenges. To address the future demand for natural products used as drugs, new platforms are being established that are better suited for heterologous production of plant metabolites. Specifically, direct metabolic engineering of plants can provide effective heterologous expression for production of valuable plant-derived natural products. In this review, our primary focus is on small terpenoids and we discuss the benefits of plant expression platforms and provide several successful examples of stable production of small terpenoids in plants.
* Title and MeSH Headings from MEDLINE®/PubMed®, a database of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.