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Arch Biochem Biophys. 2006 Oct 15;454(2):123-36. Epub 2006 Aug 23.

The diverse sesquiterpene profile of patchouli, Pogostemon cablin, is correlated with a limited number of sesquiterpene synthases.

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Firmenich SA, Biotechnology Department, Corporate R and D Division, P.O. Box 239, CH-1211 Geneva 8, Switzerland.


Pogostemon cablin (patchouli), like many plants within the Lamiaceae, accumulates large amounts of essential oil. Patchouli oil is unique because it consists of over 24 different sesquiterpenes, rather than a blend of different mono-, sesqui- and di-terpene compounds. To determine if this complex mixture of sesquiterpenes arises from an equal number of unique sesquiterpene synthases, we developed a RT-PCR strategy to isolate and functionally characterize the respective patchouli oil synthase genes. Unexpectedly, only five terpene synthase cDNA genes were isolated. Four of the cDNAs encode for synthases catalyzing the biosynthesis of one major sesquiterpene, including a gamma-curcumene synthase, two germacrene D synthases, and a germacrene A synthase. The fifth cDNA encodes for a patchoulol synthase, which catalyzes the conversion of FPP to patchoulol plus at least 13 additional sesquiterpene products. Equally intriguing, the yield of the different in vitro reaction products resembles quantitatively and qualitatively the profile of sesquiterpenes found in patchouli oil extracted from plants, suggesting that a single terpene synthase is responsible for the bulk and diversity of terpene products produced in planta.

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