Biotechnology & genetic engineering reviews

Metabolic engineering of plants for artemisinin synthesis.

PMID 24568277


Artemisinin, a natural compound from Artemisia annua, is highly effective in treating drug-resistant malaria. Because chemical synthesis of this natural terpenoid is not economically feasible, its only source remains as the native plant which produces only small quantities of it, resulting in a supply that is far short of demand. Extensive efforts have been invested in metabolic engineering for the biosynthesis of artemisinin precursors in microbes. However, the production of artemisinin itself has only been achieved in plants. Since, A. annua possesses only poorly developed genetic resources for traditional breeders, molecular breeding is the best alternative. In this review, we describe the efforts taken to enhance artemisinin production in A. annua via transgenesis and advocate metabolic engineering of the complete functional artemisinin metabolic pathway in heterologous plants. In both cases, we emphasize the need to apply state-of-the-art synthetic biology approaches to ensure successful biosynthesis of the drug.