Plants are a rich source of unique molecules, including 25% of natural-product-derived drugs. However, the discovery, synthesis, and overall material supply chains for sourcing plant-based medicines remain ad hoc, biased, and tedious. While microbial biosynthesis presents compelling alternatives to traditional approaches based on extraction from natural plant hosts, many challenges exist in the reconstruction of plant specialized metabolic pathways in microbial hosts. We have developed approaches to address the challenges that arise in the reconstruction of complex plant biosynthetic pathways in microbial hosts. We have utilized these strategies to develop yeast production platforms for an important class of plant alkaloids, which include the medicinal opioids and noscapinoids. The intersection of synthetic biology, genomics, and informatics will lead to transformative advances in how we make and discover essential medicines.
Christina D. Smolke is Professor and W.M. Keck Foundation Faculty Scholar in the Department of Bioengineering and, by courtesy, Chemical Engineering at Stanford University. Christina’s academic research program develops foundational tools that drive transformative advances in our ability to engineering biology. Her group has pioneered the development of yeast biosynthesis platforms for complex plant-based alkaloids, including the opioids and noscapinoids. Christina is also Co-Founder and CEO of Antheia, which leverages advances in synthetic biology, genomics, informatics, and fermentation to transform how we make and discover important medicines. Her impact in advancing the frontiers of biotechnology has been recognized with numerous awards, including Chan Zuckerberg Biohub Investigator, Nature’s 10, AIMBE College of Fellows, NIH Director’s Pioneer Award, WTN Award in Biotechnology, and TR35 Award.