Isoprenoid drugs, biofuels, and chemicals--artemisinin, farnesene, and beyond.


Isoprenoids have been identified and used as natural pharmaceuticals, fragrances, solvents, and, more recently, advanced biofuels. Although isoprenoids are most commonly found in plants, researchers have successfully engineered both the eukaryotic and prokaryotic isoprenoid biosynthetic pathways to produce these valuable chemicals in microorganisms at high yields. The microbial synthesis of the precursor to artemisinin--an important antimalarial drug produced from the sweet wormwood Artemisia annua--serves as perhaps the most successful example of this approach. Through advances in synthetic biology and metabolic engineering, microbial-derived semisynthetic artemisinin may soon replace plant-derived artemisinin as the primary source of this valuable pharmaceutical. The richness and diversity of isoprenoid structures also make them ideal candidates for advanced biofuels that may act as "drop-in" replacements for gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. Indeed, the sesquiterpenes farnesene and bisabolene, monoterpenes pinene and limonene, and hemiterpenes isopentenol and isopentanol have been evaluated as fuels or fuel precursors. As in the artemisinin project, these isoprenoids have been produced microbially through synthetic biology and metabolic engineering efforts. Here, we provide a brief review of the numerous isoprenoid compounds that have found use as pharmaceuticals, flavors, commodity chemicals, and, most importantly, advanced biofuels. In each case, we highlight the metabolic engineering strategies that were used to produce these compounds successfully in microbial hosts. In addition, we present a current outlook on microbial isoprenoid production, with an eye towards the many challenges that must be addressed to achieve higher yields and industrial-scale production.

DOI: 10.1007/10_2014_288
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@article{George2015IsoprenoidDB, title={Isoprenoid drugs, biofuels, and chemicals--artemisinin, farnesene, and beyond.}, author={Kevin W. George and Jorge Alonso-Gutierrez and Jay D. Keasling and Taek S Lee}, journal={Advances in biochemical engineering/biotechnology}, year={2015}, volume={148}, pages={355-89} }