• Maxim Itkin
  • Asaph Aharoni


Plants produce a myriad of secondary metabolites (SMs), which constantly contribute to plants’ interaction with the surroundings. Since ancient times and up to this day mankind has been using SMs as sources for medicines, spices, fragrances, pesticides, poisons, hallucinogens, stimulants, dyes, perfumery and countless more purposes. The shared value for both humans and plants makes SMs important targets for bioengineering. The formation of certain SM compounds may be restricted to single plant species, specific plant organs, cells or even particular cell compartments. Bioengineering can modulate the levels, time and site of production of natural products in plants. In this chapter we review the state of the art in the bioengineering of natural products at the whole plant level. In the first part of this review, we summarize the current and emerging bioengineering strategies and methods, including the use of the riboswitches, immunomodulation, synthetic microRNAs and Zinc-finger nucleases. The second and major part of this chapter provides examples from different fields of bioengineering in plants including: (a) the production of nutraceuticals, (b) modifying volatiles and pigments (in fruit and flowers), (c) production of medicinal agents and (d) aiding plants in the fight against biotic stresses. The experiments described here were conducted either in target plants, usually crop species, or as a form of a “proof of concept” in model plant species (e.g. Arabidopsis). Future challenges for SM bioengineering include reducing unwanted effects on plant fitness, transfer of knowledge from models to crops, the reduction of genomic position effects and the capacity to predict the outcome of bioengineering. These aspects are also discussed. The large and rapid advances made during the last decade in our understanding of the molecular genetic control of SM production and biological function provide an excellent foundation for successful bioengineering of these small molecules in plants.


Transgenic Plant Floral Scent Tropane Alkaloid Untransformed Plant Rice Endosperm 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



A.A. is an incumbent of the Adolfo and Evelyn Blum Career Development Chair. The research in A.A. laboratory is supported by the William Z. and Eda Bess Novick Young Scientist Fund, the Y. Leon Benoziyo Institute for Molecular Medicine, the EU project ‘META-PHOR’, contract number FOODCT-2006–036220, the AAFC/BARD research project C-9105–06 and the Minerva foundation. We would like to thank Alexander Vainstein and John Paul Alvarez for the contribution of images.



an interdisciplinary field dealing with the application of analytical and experimental engineering methods, design and techniques to tissues, cells and molecules of living system. Rooted in mathematics, physical, chemical and the life sciences, the bioengineering is used to solve problems in medicine, daily life and biology by understanding the function of the live organism and the application of engineering technologies to design new tools and techniques.


a technique that allows explicit sequestration of a metabolite, protein or RNA by the ectopic expression of genes encoding antibodies or antibody fragments.

Metabolic engineering:

targeted improvement of cellular properties or metabolite production via manipulation of specific metabolic or signal transduction pathways.


extracts of foods claimed to have a medicinal effect on human health.


a natural RNA sensor capable of controlling gene expression by using its ability to bind specific small molecule ligands such as vitamins, nucleotides, amino acids and various enzyme co-factors.

Virus-induced gene silencing (VIGS):

a technology that exploits an RNA-mediated antiviral defense mechanism. This technique is used in plants for the analysis of gene function and has been adapted for high-throughput functional genomics.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Plant SciencesWeizmann Institute of ScienceRehovotIsrael

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