Natural product biosynthesis in Medicago species
Covering: up to the end of 2013
The genus Medicago, a member of the legume (Fabaceae) family, comprises 87 species of flowering plants, including the forage crop M. sativa (alfalfa) and the model legume M. truncatula (barrel medic). Medicago species synthesize a variety of bioactive natural products that are used to engage into symbiotic interactions but also serve to deter pathogens and herbivores. For humans, these bioactive natural products often possess promising pharmaceutical properties. In this review, we focus on the two most interesting and well characterized secondary metabolite classes found in Medicago species, the triterpene saponins and the flavonoids, with a detailed overview of their biosynthesis, regulation, and profiling methods. Furthermore, their biological role within the plant as well as their potential utility for human health or other applications is discussed. Finally, we give an overview of the advances made in metabolic engineering in Medicago species and how the development of novel molecular and omics toolkits can influence a better understanding of this genus in terms of specialized metabolism and chemistry. Throughout, we critically analyze the current bottlenecks and speculate on future directions and opportunities for research and exploitation of Medicago metabolism.