Visual method for triterpene production in Nicotiana benthamiana

OpenPlant post-doc Michael Stephenson in Prof. Anne Osbourn’s lab at the John Innes Centre, has starred in a video supporting a protocols paper in the Journal of Visual Experimentation:


The triterpenes are one of the largest and most structurally diverse families of plant natural products. Many triterpene derivatives have been shown to possess medicinally relevant biological activity. However, thus far this potential has not translated into a plethora of triterpene-derived drugs in the clinic. This is arguably (at least partially) a consequence of limited practical synthetic access to this class of compound, a problem that can stifle the exploration of structure-activity relationships and development of lead candidates by traditional medicinal chemistry workflows. Despite their immense diversity, triterpenes are all derived from a single linear precursor, 2,3-oxidosqualene. Transient heterologous expression of biosynthetic enzymes in N. benthamiana can divert endogenous supplies of 2,3-oxidosqualene towards the production of new high-value triterpene products that are not naturally produced by this host. Agro-infiltration is an efficient and simple means of achieving transient expression in N. benthamiana. The process involves infiltration of plant leaves with a suspension of Agrobacterium tumefaciens carrying the expression construct(s) of interest. Co-infiltration of an additional A. tumefaciens strain carrying an expression construct encoding an enzyme that boosts precursor supply significantly increases yields. After a period of five days, the infiltrated leaf material can be harvested and processed to extract and isolate the resulting triterpene product(s). This is a process that is linearly and reliably scalable, simply by increasing the number of plants used in the experiment. Herein is described a protocol for rapid preparative-scale production of triterpenes utilizing this plant-based platform. The protocol utilizes an easily replicable vacuum infiltration apparatus, which allows the simultaneous infiltration of up to four plants, enabling batch-wise infiltration of hundreds of plants in a short period of time.

Stephenson MJ, Reed J, Brouwer B, Osbourn A. Transient Expression in Nicotiana Benthamiana Leaves for Triterpene Production at a Preparative Scale. J Vis Exp. 2018 Aug 16;(138). doi: 10.3791/58169.