Artemisinin the sesquiterpene endoperoxide lactone extracted from the herb Artemisia annua, remains the basis for the current preferred treatment against the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum. In addition, artemisinin and its derivatives show additional anti-parasite, anti-cancer, and anti-viral properties. Widespread use of this valuable secondary metabolite has been hampered by low production in vivo and high cost of chemical synthesis in vitro. Novel production methods are required to accommodate the ever-growing need for this important drug. Past work has focused on increasing production through traditional breeding approaches, with limited success, and on engineering cultured plants for high production in bioreactors. New research is focusing on heterologous expression systems for this unique biochemical pathway. Recently discovered genes, including a cytochrome P450 and its associated reductase, have been shown to catalyze multiple steps in the biochemical pathway leading to artemisinin. This has the potential to make a semi-synthetic approach to production both possible and cost effective. Artemisinin precursor production in engineered Saccharomyces cerevisiae is about two orders of magnitude higher than from field-grown A. annua. Efforts to increase flux through engineered pathways are on-going in both E. coli and S. cerevisiae through combinations of engineering precursor pathways and downstream optimization of gene expression. This review will compare older approaches to overproduction of this important drug, and then focus on the results from the newer approaches using heterologous expression systems and how they might meet the demands for treating malaria and other diseases.
Keywords: Amorpha diene, CYP71AV1, terpenoid, genetic engineering, malaria
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