Biotech Updates

Plant Biotech for Sustainable Pharmaceutical Compounds

April 16, 2014

Plant biotechnology has made possible the groundbreaking discoveries of scientists working in the European Smartcell project to improve the efficiency of phamaceuticals production. Biotechnological production offers a cost-effective and environment-friendly alternative to chemical synthesis of rare and complex pharmaceutical compounds currently isolated from plants.

Expensive anticancer alkaloid blockbusters used in chemotherapy, such as terpenoid indole alkaloids, are currently extracted from the plant Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus) at high costs, as very low levels accumulate in plant tissues. The SmartCell Consortium succeeded in elucidating the complete upstream segment of the terpenoid indole alkaloid biosynthesis pathway. The complete pathway of twelve enzymes was reconstructed in tobacco plants, paving the way for cost-effective production of diverse therapeutic compounds.

"The use of plant cells as real green chemical factories is now becoming feasible for the first time. The technology developed and the experience gained on terpenoid indole alkaloids in this project can be utilized and applied to other compounds and plants as well", says project coordinator Dr. Kirsi-Marja Oksman-Caldentey from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.

For more information about this research, read the VTT news release at