Engineering triterpene and methylated triterpene production in plants provides biochemical and physiological insights into terpene metabolism

Zuodong Jiang, Chase Kempinski, Caroline J. Bush, S. Eric Nybo, Joe Chappell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Linear, branch-chained triterpenes, including squalene (C30), botryococcene (C30), and their methylated derivatives (C31–C37), generated by the green alga Botryococcus braunii race B have received significant attention because of their utility as chemical and biofuel feedstocks. However, the slow growth habit of B. braunii makes it impractical as a production system. In this study, we evaluated the potential of generating high levels of botryococcene in tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) plants by diverting carbon flux from the cytosolic mevalonate pathway or the plastidic methylerythritol phosphate pathway by the targeted overexpression of an avian farnesyl diphosphate synthase along with two versions of botryococcene synthases. Up to 544 µg g−1 fresh weight of botryococcene was achieved when this metabolism was directed to the chloroplasts, which is approximately 90 times greater than that accumulating in plants engineered for cytosolic production. To test if methylated triterpenes could be produced in tobacco, we also engineered triterpene methyltransferases (TMTs) from B. braunii into wild-type plants and transgenic lines selected for high-level triterpene accumulation. Up to 91% of the total triterpene contents could be converted to methylated forms (C31 and C32) by cotargeting the TMTs and triterpene biosynthesis to the chloroplasts, whereas only 4% to 14% of total triterpenes were methylated when this metabolism was directed to the cytoplasm. When the TMTs were overexpressed in the cytoplasm of wild-type plants, up to 72% of the total squalene was methylated, and total triterpene (C30+C31+C32) content was elevated 7-fold. Altogether, these results point to innate mechanisms controlling metabolite fluxes, including a homeostatic role for squalene.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)702-716
Number of pages15
JournalPlant Physiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 American Society of Plant Biologists. All Rights Reserved.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Genetics
  • Plant Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Engineering triterpene and methylated triterpene production in plants provides biochemical and physiological insights into terpene metabolism'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this