Secondary metabolism and metabolic engineering (2013/2014)

Course code
Name of lecturer
Luca Dall'Osto
Luca Dall'Osto
Number of ECTS credits allocated
Academic sector
Language of instruction
II semestre dal Mar 3, 2014 al Jun 13, 2014.

Lesson timetable

II semestre
Day Time Type Place Note
Wednesday 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM lesson Lecture Hall L from Apr 9, 2014  to Jun 13, 2014
Thursday 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM lesson Lecture Hall L from Apr 10, 2014  to Jun 13, 2014
Friday 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM lesson Lecture Hall L from Mar 14, 2014  to Jun 13, 2014

Learning outcomes

The course covers the major groups of secondary metabolites in plants and microorganisms, from the perspectives of biochemistry and biosynthesys, with references to how genetic engineering can be used to manipulate levels of secondary metabolites of economic value, as well as those of importance to health and human diet. The course of secondary metabolism is proposed to provide an integrated view of some basic aspects of secondary metabolism from the relationship between biological function of secondary metabolites in defense against biotic and abiotic stress. In particular it will be treated the reasons why so many plant secondary metabolites possess pharmacological activity. The course defines the main classes of secondary metabolites and their biosynthetic pathways, methods for identification of genes coding stages of the biosynthetic pathways and ultimately the main approaches to the genetic modification of plants and microorganisms in order to obtain a targeted production of secondary metabolites with applicable value, giving the advantages and disadvantages of different methods.


1. Revision of the main metabolic pathways of primary metabolism, the interconnection of metabolisms, the activation of secondary metabolism.
2. Definition and systematic of secondary metabolites (MS)
3. Ecological function of MS and pharmacological effects on mammals and insects.
4. Terpenoids, the synthesis of IPP (isopentenyl pyrophosphate) in the cytosol and plastid. The role of terpenoids in plant defense. The Rubber: production. Biotechnological applications of terpenoid biosynthetic pathways. Story of a biosynthetic pathway: carotenoids and the defense of photosynthetic apparatus against photo-oxidation stress.
5. The alkaloids: biosynthesis, functional clusters and biological activity, synthesis of berberine and definition of other metabolic pathways. Biotechnological applications.
6. The phenylpropanoids: biosynthesis and ecological functions. Phenols, polyphenols and tannins: classification and biosynthesis. Biotechnological applications. Biosynthesis of lignin and suberin.
7. Flavonoids: biosynthesis, localization, ecological significance. Synthesis and modification of flower color for commercial purposes. Biotechnological applications.
8. Compounds containing sulfur, biosynthesis of glucosinolates. Environmental and genetic factors that influence the expression of glucosinolates. Metabolism and detoxification of isothiocyanates. Anti-nutritional effects on livestock and humans, beneficial effects of sulfur compounds in human diet. Metabolic engineering.
9. Psoralens and acetylenes: distribution in plants of food interest, biosynthesis, perspectives in relation to food safety.
10. Polyketides, secondary metabolites produced by bacteria. Mode of biosynthesis, the possibility of intervention by biotechnology. the "polyketides" in plants.
11. Allelopathy and directed evolution.
12. Metabolic engineering: chloroplast transformation (plants and algae) and importance of this technique in the expression of secondary products.
13. Metabolic engineering: genetic resources by non-culturable microorganisms and symbiont; metagenomics, metatranscriptomic, techniques for the identification of new enzymatic activities.
14. Metabolic engineering: metabolomics, techniques for the identification of enzymes and substrates from data of transcriptomics, proteomics, metabolomics.
15. Secondary metabolites in the main foodstuff. Toxicity of natural and artificial products. Ames' test.
16. Biotechnology of fragrances: aromas produced by yeast in main fermented beverages, and biotechnology interventions, production of vanillin by chemical, enzymatic and biotechnological methods, production of secondary metabolites by plant cell cultures, metabolic engineering of plants of food interest for the modulation of fregrances.

Assessment methods and criteria

Presentation of a published researc article, to be chosen from a list provided, and the proposal for continuation of the line of research.

Oral. The student will discuss the main topics of the course, trying to demonstrate critical thought and awareness of the structure of the field of study.