Synthetic Biosystems for the Production of High Value Plant Metabolites

Learning from plants

PhytoMetaSyn Logo  Project Leaders:
  Peter Facchini, U. of Calgary
  Vincent Martin, Concordia U.

Project Description:

The Synthetic Biosystems for the Production of High‐Value Plant Metabolites Project (The PhytoMetaSyn Project) is a four‐year multi‐institutional project bringing together an experienced team of Canadian plant biochemists, metabolic modellers, bioinformaticians and synthetic biologists. The integration of the activities of the Project researchers will enable the development of prototype yeast strains in which plant biosynthetic pathways will be reconstituted with the aim of producing selected high-value plant natural products which have application as pharmaceuticals, flavouring agents, cancer chemopreventative agents, anti-malarial and anti-inflammatory agents, industrial chemicals and compounds that function as intermediates in the biosynthesis of other metabolites. The Project will establish proof-of-concept, demonstrating the feasibility of this approach at a lab-scale by engineering yeast for the production of six prototype plant natural products. In working towards this objective, the Project will develop a novel genomics pipeline that integrates massively parallel DNA sequencing, state-of-the-art metabolomics, integrated bioinformatics and synthetic biology to efficiently identify, characterize and catalogue the catalytic components responsible for the immense specialized metabolite (natural product or secondary metabolite) diversity of plants. In addition to the scientific components of the project there is a GE3LS component which is investigating regulatory, ethical and economic issues, including public consultations to ensure that the technology developed is socially robust.

The Project will benefit the scientific community with the contribution of gene sequence databases for the 75 targeted species in the Project, a catalogue of potentially thousands of metabolites from the 75 targeted species integrated with the transcriptomic data, the identification of new plant genes that are involved in plant natural product production, and the development of yeast strains which produce both precursors for the biosynthetic pathways, as well as prototype yeast strains producing the natural plant product. The scientific contributions of the project will be available to researchers for basic plant biology research for the improvement of the disease resistance, nutritional value, and phytonutrient content of agricultural products, the identification of bioactive metabolites and validation of natural health products. The proof-of-concept will be the framework for further research leading to the commercialization of the process, increasing not only the availability of selected natural plant products, but also potentially impacting the economics of production.

The main outcomes of this project are: 
  • A public resource of genomic and metabolic information for 75 plants that produce a huge number of important natural products;    
  • Yeast strains that produce high-value natural plant products
  • A catalogue of new enzymes for use as catalysts in synthetic biology applications
  • The invention of functional-genomics methods for describing metabolic pathways and identifying unknown biosynthetic genes from plants
  • An analysis of regulatory, ethical, and economic subjects, which will help to ensure sound and responsible plant-technology development.

Competition: Applied Genomics Research in Bioproducts or Crops

Project Website:

For more information contact Genome Alberta PhytoMetaSyn Projecty Manager Michael O'Connell at