Agronomy and Horticulture Department




Date of this Version



Plant Biotechnology Journal (2019) 17, pp. 373–385


Copyright 2018 The Authors.

Open access

doi: 10.1111/pbi.12983


Triterpenes are thirty-carbon compounds derived from the universal five-carbon prenyl precursors isopentenyl diphosphate (IPP) and dimethylallyl diphosphate (DMAPP). Normally, triterpenes are synthesized via the mevalonate (MVA) pathway operating in the cytoplasm of eukaryotes where DMAPP is condensed with two IPPs to yield farnesyl diphosphate (FPP), catalyzed by FPP synthase (FPS). Squalene synthase (SQS) condenses two molecules of FPP to generate the symmetrical product squalene, the first committed precursor to sterols and most other triterpenes. In the green algae Botryococcus braunii, two FPP molecules can also be condensed in an asymmetric manner yielding the more highly branched triterpene, botryococcene. Botryococcene is an attractive molecule because of its potential as a biofuel and petrochemical feedstock. Because B. braunii, the only native host for botryococcene biosynthesis, is difficult to grow, there have been efforts to move botryococcene biosynthesis into organisms more amenable to large-scale production. Here, we report the genetic engineering of the model monocot, Brachypodium distachyon, for botryococcene biosynthesis and accumulation. A subcellular targeting strategy was used, directing the enzymes (botryococcene synthase [BS] and FPS) to either the cytosol or the plastid. High titres of botryococcene (>1 mg/g FW in T0 mature plants) were obtained using the cytosolic-targeting strategy. Plastid-targeted BS + FPS lines accumulated botryococcene (albeit in lesser amounts than the cytosolic BS + FPS lines), but they showed a detrimental phenotype dependent on plastid-targeted FPS, and could not proliferate and survive to set seed under phototrophic conditions. These results highlight intriguing differences in isoprenoid metabolism between dicots and monocots.