Affiliation: Genetics and Developmental Biology Program, Plant and Soil Sciences Division, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV, USA 26506-6108.
Plants are capable of producing a myriad of chemical compounds. While these compounds serve specific functions in the plant, many have surprising effects on the human body, often with positive action against diseases. These compounds are often difficult to synthesize ex vivo and require the coordinated and compartmentalized action of enzymes in living organisms. However, the amounts produced in whole plants are often small and restricted to single tissues of the plant or even cellular organelles, making their extraction an expensive process. Since most natural products used in therapeutics are specialized, secondary plant metabolites, we provide here an overview of the classification of the main classes of these compounds, with its biochemical pathways and how this information can be used to create efficient in and ex planta production pipelines to generate highly valuable compounds. Metabolic genetic engineering is introduced in light of physiological and genetic methods to enhance production of high-value plant secondary metabolites.