Terpenoids are a class of plant secondary metabolites that include some important pharmacologically active compounds, but they are produced in low concentrations in plants and are expensive to produce synthetically. Researchers from the University of California at Berkeley have figured out how to retool the metabolic pathways of E. coli to produce functional plant-derived terpenoids at high concentration, which could significantly reduce the cost of manufacturing compared with existing synthetic and extractive techniques.

In Nature Chemical Biology, the group described a process in which they pieced together endogenous bacterial genes with genes imported from plants or yeast to assemble the basic elements of two pathways to produce functionalized hydroxycadinene and artemisinic acid. Hydroxycadinene is a semi-synthetic precursor to the terpene gossypol and artemisinic acid