Terpenoids: Opportunities for biosynthesis of natural product drugs using engineered microorganisms

Parayil Kumaran Ajikumar, Keith Tyo, Simon Carlsen, Oliver Mucha, Too Heng Phon, Gregory Stephanopoulos*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

341 Scopus citations


Terpenoids represent a diverse class of molecules that provide a wealth of opportunities to address many human health and societal issues. The expansive array of structures and functionalities that have been evolved in nature provide an excellent pool of molecules for use in human therapeutics. While this class of molecules has members with therapeutic properties including anticancer, antiparasitic, antimicrobial, antiallergenic, antispasmodic, antihyperglycemic, anti-infiammatory, and immunomodulatory properties, supply limitations prevent the large scale use of some molecules. Many of these molecules are only found in ppm levels in nature thus requiring massive harvesting to obtain sufficient amounts of the drug. Synthetic biology and metabolic engineering provide innovative approaches to increase the production of the desired molecule in the native organism, and most importantly, transfer the biosynthetic pathways to other hosts. Microbial systems are well studied, and genetic manipulations allow the optimization of microbial metabolisms for the production of common terpenoid precursors. Using a host of tools, unprecedented advancements in the large scale production of terpenoids have been achieved in recent years. Identification of limiting steps and pathway regulation, coupled with design strategies to minimize terpenoid byproducts wih a high flux to the desired biosynthetic pathways, have yielded greater than 100-fold improvements in the production of a range of terpenoids. This review focuses on the biodiversity of terpenoids, the biosynthetic pathways involved, and engineering efforts to maximize the production through these pathways.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)167-190
Number of pages24
JournalMolecular Pharmaceutics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2008


  • Metabolic engineering
  • Microbial cells
  • Natural products
  • Terpenoids

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Pharmaceutical Science
  • Drug Discovery


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