Production Of Phytochemicals

The commercial production of plant secondary metabolites as fine chemicals can be done by either (1) total chemical synthesis, (2) extraction and purification from plant material, or (3) partial chemical synthesis following extraction of biosynthetic precursors from plant material. The decision on which route is taken is made on economical grounds and/or depends on the availability of the plant material. Chemical synthesis of plant-derived compounds is worthwhile only if few synthesis steps are needed and the source chemicals are available at low cost. Molecules of simple chemical structure with few steric centers thus lend themselves to total synthesis. Examples of such compounds are the piperidine alkaloids lobelin and arecoline (Fig. 1). In contrast, complex structures such as the cyclic diterpenoid taxol or alkaloids such as the tropane alkaloid scopolamine or the indole alkaloid camptothecin (Fig. 2) are either extracted from plant material or partially synthesized from extracted biosynthetic precursors. For example, taxol and its analogue taxotere are largely produced by acylation of their biosynthetic precursor 10-deacetylbaccatin III extracted from the needles of Taxus (4). The anticancer therapeutic topotecan is obtained semisynthetically from the indol alkaloid camptothecin extracted from the leaves of Camptotheca acuminata (5).

Several sources of plant material may be used for the purpose of secondary metabolite extraction. The simplest route is the extraction from plant material that has been harvested from wild plant resources. However, wild plant resources may be limited and hence may not permit sustainable production of phytochemicals. In addition, overexploitation of wild plant resources is undesirable from an environmental point of view (3).

An alternative preferred by producers of phytochemicals is the cultivation of medicinal plants by conventional farming. Conventional farming permits the sustainable production of plant material in the amount required for phytochemical production, provides independence of commercial plant material suppliers, and allows continuous improvement of production levels and economics by breeding and selection of superior genotypes. Disadvan-

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