SmartCell - Key project information

Reference: FP7 KBBE 222716

Budget: 8.4 million euro (5.9 million euro EC contribution)

Participants: 18 organisations, from nine European countries

(click here to see full participant list)

Duration: January 2009 - September 2013

Coordinator: Dr. Kirsi-Marja Oksman, VTT (Technical Research Centre of Finland)

Activity 2.3: Life Sciences, biotechnology and biochemistry for sustainable non-food products and processes

Area 2.3.1: Improved biomass and plant based renewables

Topic KBBE-2007-3-1-09: GREEN FACTORY - The expression and accumulation of valuable industrial compounds in plants


SmartCell - Project summary

Plants synthesize a vast and diverse range of low molecular weight molecules (known as secondary metabolites), many of which have important biological properties and industrial applications. Only 8% out of >400,000 plant species have been chemically characterized. Thus higher plants offer enormous potential to discover new lead compounds e.g. for therapeutic applications, and this has been recognized in practical terms by a number of pharmaceutical companies. Total chemical synthesis of secondary metabolites is often uneconomical because of their very complex structures; consequently many compounds are currently isolated from plants. Genetic engineering of plant secondary metabolic pathways is now feasible; however, it has not yet resulted in major commercial breakthroughs, mostly because of low production levels linked to inherent biochemical constraints. The major factor that currently limits the ability to modulate plant secondary metabolism is our poor understanding of the complete metabolic pathways and their regulation at the systems level. This in turn has hampered the efficient and sustainable use of plants as Green Factories for production of valuable industrial and pharmaceutical compounds. Single step engineering may be successful on occasion but in complex pathways, intermediate gene interventions most often do not affect end product accumulation. This implies that in order to achieve high production levels in plants rational engineering of complete pathways needs to be developed and optimized in a manner analogous to that achieved in microbes, e.g. polyketide pathway engineering.

View a presentation outlining the SmartCell project (opens as PDF)