Several plant isoquinoline alkaloids (PIAs) possess powerful pharmaceutical and biotechnological properties. Thus, PIA metabolism and its fascinating molecules, including morphine, colchicine and galanthamine, have attracted the attention of both the industry and researchers involved in plant science, biochemistry, chemical bioengineering and medicine. Currently, access and availability of high-value PIAs [commercialized (e.g. galanthamine) or not (e.g. narciclasine)] is limited by low concentration in nature, lack of cultivation or geographic access, seasonal production and risk of overharvesting wild plant species. Nevertheless, most commercial PIAs are still extracted from plant sources. Efforts to improve the production of PIA have largely been impaired by the lack of knowledge on PIA metabolism. With the development and integration of next-generation sequencing technologies, high-throughput proteomics and metabolomics analyses and bioinformatics, systems biology was used to unravel metabolic pathways allowing the use of metabolic engineering and synthetic biology approaches to increase production of valuable PIAs. Metabolic engineering provides opportunity to overcome issues related to restricted availability, diversification and productivity of plant alkaloids. Engineered plant, plant cells and microbial cell cultures can act as biofactories by offering their metabolic machinery for the purpose of optimizing the conditions and increasing the productivity of a specific alkaloid. In this article, is presented an update on the production of PIA in engineered plant, plant cell cultures and heterologous micro-organisms.
© 2015 Society for Experimental Biology, Association of Applied Biologists and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.