Molecules derived from plants make up a sizeable proportion of the drugs currently available on the market. These include a
number of secondary metabolite compounds the monetary value of which is very high. New pharmaceuticals often originate in nature.
Approximately 50% of new drug entities against cancer or microbial infections are derived from plants or micro-organisms. However,
these compounds are structurally often too complex to be economically manufactured by chemical synthesis, and frequently isolation
from naturally grown or cultivated plants is not a sustainable option. Therefore the biotechnological production of high-value plant secondary
metabolites in cultivated cells is potentially an attractive alternative. Compared to microbial systems eukaryotic organisms such as
plants are far more complex, and our understanding of the metabolic pathways in plants and their regulation at the systems level has been
rather poor until recently. However, metabolic engineering including advanced multigene transformation techniques and state-of-art metabolomics
platforms has given us entirely new tools to exploit plants as Green Factories. Single step engineering may be successful on
occasion but in complex pathways, intermediate gene interventions most often do not affect the end product accumulation. In this review
we discuss recent developments towards elucidation of complex plant biosynthetic pathways and the production of a number of highvalue
pharmaceuticals including paclitaxel, tropane, morphine and terpenoid indole alkaloids in plants and cell cultures.
Keywords: Plant cell culture, medicinal plants, natural products, secondary metabolites, pharmaceuticals, genetic engineering.
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