Amphetamine analogs are produced by plants in the genus Ephedra and by Catha edulis, and include the widely used decongestants and appetite suppressants pseudoephedrine and ephedrine. A combination of yeast (Candida utilis or Saccharomyces cerevisiae) fermentation and subsequent chemical modification is used for the commercial production of these compounds. The availability of certain plant biosynthetic genes would facilitate the engineering of yeast strains capable of de novo pseudoephedrine and ephedrine biosynthesis. Chemical synthesis has yielded amphetamine analogs with myriad functional group substitutions and diverse pharmacological properties. The isolation of enzymes with the serendipitous capacity to accept novel substrates could allow the production of substituted amphetamines in synthetic biosystems. Here, we review the biology, biochemistry and biotechnological potential of amphetamine analogs in plants.
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