The methods developed are intended provide alternatives to chemical synthesis. By controlling the cell metabolism the aim is to create a “green factory” in living plant cells. The project aims to develop controlled ways of improving biosynthesis of both products that are generated naturally in plants, and also using genetic modification to produce new compounds.
The SmartCell project, which involves 14 research institutes and five companies, will invest a total of Euro 8.5 million. It will focus on terpene compounds, which are of value to the pharmaceutical industry, and are used, for example, in the treatment of cancer and malaria.
The expertise and technology created during the project will be relevant to the production of other compounds in plants and plant cells.
The opportunities offered by plant biotechnology could be much more extensively exploited in the pharmaceutical industry, says project coordinator, Chief Research Scientist Kirsi-Marja Oksman-Caldentey of VTT. “The latest research methods can be used to intensify the production of valuable agents in plant cells; plant cells could become real green factories.”
In addition to VTT, participants include VIB, Belgium, Leiden University, the Netherlands), Lleida University, Spain and Fraunhofer IME Aachen, Germany. The total budget is Euro 8.5 million, of which the EU’s contribution is Euro 6 million. Contractual negotiations will soon be concluded, and the project will start in January 2009.