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Science 311 (5762): 808-811

Copyright © 2006 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Biosynthesis of Plant Volatiles: Nature's Diversity and Ingenuity

Eran Pichersky,1* Joseph P. Noel,2 Natalia Dudareva3

Abstract: Plant volatiles (PVs) are lipophilic molecules with high vapor pressure that serve various ecological roles. The synthesis of PVs involves the removal of hydrophilic moieties and oxidation/hydroxylation, reduction, methylation, and acylation reactions. Some PV biosynthetic enzymes produce multiple products from a single substrate or act on multiple substrates. Genes for PV biosynthesis evolve by duplication of genes that direct other aspects of plant metabolism; these duplicated genes then diverge from each other over time. Changes in the preferred substrate or resultant product of PV enzymes may occur through minimal changes of critical residues. Convergent evolution is often responsible for the ability of distally related species to synthesize the same volatile.

1 Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, University of Michigan, 830 North University Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA.
2 Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Jack H. Skirball Center for Chemical Biology and Proteomics, The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, 10010 North Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA.
3 Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907, USA.

* To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: lelx{at}

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