Metabolic engineering of volatile isoprenoids in plants and microbes: Exploiting volatile isoprenoids for biotechnology

Claudia E. Vickers, Mareike Bongers, Qing Liu, Thierry Delatte, Harro Bouwmeester

Research output: Contribution to journalReviewpeer-review


The chemical properties and diversity of volatile isoprenoids lends them to a broad variety of biological roles. It also lends them to a host of biotechnological applications, both by taking advantage of their natural functions and by using them as industrial chemicals/chemical feedstocks. Natural functions include roles as insect attractants and repellents, abiotic stress protectants in pathogen defense, etc. Industrial applications include use as pharmaceuticals, flavours, fragrances, fuels, fuel additives, etc. Here we will examine the ways in which researchers have so far found to exploit volatile isoprenoids using biotechnology. Production and/or modification of volatiles using metabolic engineering in both plants and microorganisms are reviewed, including engineering through both mevalonate and methylerythritol diphosphate pathways. Recent advances are illustrated using several case studies (herbivores and bodyguards, isoprene, and monoterpene production in microbes). Systems and synthetic biology tools with particular utility for metabolic engineering are also reviewed. Finally, we discuss the practical realities of various applications in modern biotechnology, explore possible future applications, and examine the challenges of moving these technologies forward so that they can deliver tangible benefits. While this review focuses on volatile isoprenoids, many of the engineering approaches described here are also applicable to non-isoprenoid volatiles and to non-volatile isoprenoids.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPlant, Cell and Environment
Issue number8
Pages (from-to)1753-1775
Number of pages23
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Biotechnology
  • Synthetic biology
  • Systems biology
  • Terpenes


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