Plant specialized metabolites (PSMs) are variably distributed across taxa, tissues, and ecological contexts; this variability has inspired many theories about PSM function, which to-date remain poorly tested because predictions have outpaced the available data. Advances in mass spectrometry–based metabolomics have enabled unbiased PSM profiling, and molecular biology techniques have produced PSM-free plants; the combination of these methods has accelerated our understanding of the complex ecological roles that PSMs play in plants. Synthetic biology techniques and workflows are producing high-value, structurally complex PSMs in quantities and purities sufficient for both medicinal and functional studies. These workflows enable the reengineering of PSM transport, externalization, structural diversity, and production in novel taxa, facilitating rigorous tests of long-standing theoretical predictions about why plants produce so many different PSMs in particular tissues and ecological contexts. Plants use their chemical prowess to solve ecological challenges, and synthetic biology workflows are accelerating our understanding of these evolved functions.

Expected final online publication date for the , Volume 75 is May 2024. Please see http://www.annualreviews.org/page/journal/pubdates for revised estimates.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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