Plant Cell, Tissue and Organ Culture (PCTOC)

, Volume 132, Issue 2, pp 239–265 | Cite as

Secondary metabolism of pharmaceuticals in the plant in vitro cultures: strategies, approaches, and limitations to achieving higher yield

  • Tasiu IsahEmail author
  • Shahid Umar
  • Abdul Mujib
  • Maheshwar Prasad Sharma
  • P. E. Rajasekharan
  • Nadia Zafar
  • Arajmand Frukh


Biotechnology is playing a vital alternative role in the production of pharmaceutical plant secondary metabolites to support industrial production and mitigate over-exploitation of natural sources. High-value pharmaceuticals that include alkaloids, flavonoids, terpenes, steroids, among others, are biosynthesized as a defensive strategy by plants in response to perturbations under natural environmental conditions. However, they can also be produced using plant cell, tissue, and organ culture techniques through the application of various in vitro approaches and strategies. In the past decades, efforts were on the clonal propagation, biomass and secondary metabolites production in the in vitro cultures of medicinally important plants that produce these molecules. In recent years, the effort has shifted towards optimizing culture conditions for their production through the application of cell line selection, elicitation, precursor feeding, two-phase co-culture among cell, tissue, and organ culture approaches. The efforts are made with the possibility to scale-up the production, meet pharmaceutical industry demand and conserve natural sources of the molecules. Applications of metabolic engineering and production from endophytes are also getting increasing attention but, the approaches are far from practical application in their industrial production.


Medicinal plants Plant secondary metabolism Pharmaceuticals Natural products Bioactive compounds Elicitation 



Tasiu Isah is grateful to Hamdard University New Delhi, India for the support to his research work. Financial support provided by the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India New Delhi and The World Academy of Science for the Advancement of Science in the Developing World Trieste, Italy through DBT-TWAS Postgraduate Research Fellowship to Tasiu Isah is also acknowledged.

Author contributions

TI conceived the manuscript idea, designed the contents, contributed to a large extent in all sections of the manuscript, produced Table, figures and responsible for the final version of the manuscript, AM, and NZ partly contributed in the elicitation sections, SU and MPS assisted with editing, PER partly contributed in the camptothecin production section, AF partly contributed in the introduction section.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that no conflict of interest exists in the manuscript contents.

Supplementary material

11240_2017_1332_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (230 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 230 KB)
11240_2017_1332_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (484 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (PDF 484 KB)


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Botany, School of Chemical and Life SciencesHamdard UniversityNew DelhiIndia
  2. 2.Plant Tissue Culture LaboratoryNational Biotechnology Development AgencyAbujaNigeria
  3. 3.Indian Institute of Horticultural Research (ICAR)BengaluruIndia

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