Taxol® Biosynthesis and Production: From Forests to Fermenters

  • Christopher McElroy
  • Stefan JenneweinEmail author


Taxol® (paclitaxel) has fascinated researchers, medical professionals, politicians and entrepreneurs for almost half a century. Its medicinal value as a potent anti-cancer compound has expanded greatly over time as new applications have been identified for the treatment of diverse indications. Knowledge of its complex biosynthesis pathway remains incomplete, with only 14 of the 19 genes well characterized. Despite this disadvantage, huge strides have been taken towards improving access to this diterpenoid compound and meeting the ever increasing demand. Productivity has increased thanks to the development of new methods, from the pioneering bark extraction techniques and complete chemical synthesis, to semi-synthesis from precursors such as baccatin III extracted from Taxus spp. plant cultures and the first attempts to produce taxol in non-native platforms. The entire pathway should be elucidated within the next decade, perhaps allowing its introduction into a host capable of gram per litre productivity. This review outlines major and recent findings related to the characterization of the taxol biosynthesis pathway, the evolution of production methods and future prospects for exploitation by metabolic engineering of a designed microbial chassis.


Taxol Paclitaxel Taxadiene Baccatin III Taxadiene synthase Taxaceae Taxus Cytochrome P450 Metabolic engineering Biotechnology Cell culture Diterpenoids Yew Endophytes Endophytic fungi 



Cytochrome P450 reductases


Dimethylallyl diphosphate


1-Deoxy-D-xylulose 5-phosphate pathway


Geranylgeranyl diphosphate


Horizontal gene transfer


Isopentenyl diphosphate


2-C-methyl-D-erythritol 4-phosphate pathway


Mevalonate pathway


Cytochrome P450 dependent mono-oxygenase



The authors would like to thank Dr Richard M Twyman and Dr Birgit Orthen for assistance with the manuscript.


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Molecular BiotechnologyRWTH Aachen UniversityAachenGermany
  2. 2.Department of Industrial BiotechnologyFraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology (IME)AachenGermany

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