Skip to main content


Log in

Terpenes and isoprenoids: a wealth of compounds for global use

  • Review
  • Published:
Planta Aims and scope Submit manuscript


Main conclusion

Role of terpenes and isoprenoids has been pivotal in the survival and evolution of higher plants in various ecoregions. These products find application in the pharmaceutical, flavor fragrance, and biofuel industries.

Fitness of plants in a wide range of environmental conditions entailed (i) evolution of secondary metabolic pathways enabling utilization of photosynthate for the synthesis of a variety of biomolecules, thereby facilitating diverse eco-interactive functions, and (ii) evolution of structural features for the sequestration of such compounds away from the mainstream primary metabolism to prevent autotoxicity. This review summarizes features and applications of terpene and isoprenoid compounds, comprising the largest class of secondary metabolites. Many of these terpene and isoprenoid biomolecules happen to be high-value bioproducts. They are essential components of all living organisms that are chemically highly variant. They are constituents of primary (quinones, chlorophylls, carotenoids, steroids) as well as secondary metabolism compounds with roles in signal transduction, reproduction, communication, climatic acclimation, defense mechanisms and more. They comprise single to several hundreds of repetitive five-carbon units of isopentenyl diphosphate (IPP) and its isomer dimethylallyl diphosphate (DMAPP). In plants, there are two pathways that lead to the synthesis of terpene and isoprenoid precursors, the cytosolic mevalonic acid (MVA) pathway and the plastidic methylerythritol phosphate (MEP) pathway. The diversity of terpenoids can be attributed to differential enzyme and substrate specificities and to secondary modifications acquired by terpene synthases. The biological role of secondary metabolites has been recognized as pivotal in the survival and evolution of higher plants. Terpenes and isoprenoids find application in pharmaceutical, nutraceutical, synthetic chemistry, flavor fragrance, and possibly biofuel industries.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Fig. 1

The cross-sectional view of a mitochondrion shown in this figure is modified from Google images (please see supplementary materials)

Fig. 2

Images used in the preparation of this figure, left and right panels, were modified from Google images, clip art and creative commons and these sites are listed in the supplementary materials

Similar content being viewed by others


Download references


The author thanks the Indian Government funding agencies, DBT (BT/PR/10972/GBD/27/123/2008), UGC (37/532/2010 SR), CSIR (38(1334)/12/EMR-II/2013) and ICMR (59/48/2010/BMS/TRM) for support to her laboratory and for enabling work with medicinal and aromatic plants.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sarada D. Tetali.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 40 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Tetali, S.D. Terpenes and isoprenoids: a wealth of compounds for global use. Planta 249, 1–8 (2019).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: