Designing microorganisms for heterologous biosynthesis of cannabinoids

Published: June 2, 2019

Abstract: During the last decade, the use of medical Cannabis has expanded globally and legislation is getting more liberal in many countries, facilitating the research on cannabinoids. The unique interaction of cannabinoids with the human endocannabinoid system makes these compounds an interesting target to be studied as therapeutic agents for the treatment of several medical conditions. However, currently there are important limitations in the study, production and use of cannabinoids as pharmaceutical drugs. Besides the main constituent tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, the structurally related compound cannabidiol is of high interest as drug candidate.

From the more than 100 known cannabinoids reported, most can only be extracted in very low amounts and their pharmacological profile has not been determined. Today, cannabinoids are isolated from the strictly regulated Cannabis plant, and the supply of compounds with sufficient quality is a major problem. Biotechnological production could be an attractive alternative mode of production. Herein, we explore the potential use of synthetic biology as an alternative strategy for synthesis of cannabinoids in heterologous hosts. We summarize the current knowledge surrounding cannabinoids biosynthesis and present a comprehensive description of the key steps of the genuine and artificial pathway, systems biotechnology needs and platform optimization.