Do We Understand Vanillin Biosynthesis?
Dr. Richard A. Dixon, Hailian Yang, Jaime Barros, Fang Chen and Xiaolan Rao
Department of Biological Sciences
University of North Texas
Vanillin is the world’s most popular flavor. An understanding of how the vanilla orchid synthesizes vanillin could guide biotechnological approaches for making vanillin in other plants, but, although vanillin is an extremely simple molecule, there is still controversy around its biosynthetic pathway. Vanillin is believed to be made in specialized cells within the pods of the vanilla orchid, where it is stored as its 4-O-glucoside, glucovanillin. Vanillin biosynthesis shares many features with the biosynthesis of lignin, a far more complex molecule. We will review the past and recent literature on vanillin biosynthesis and bioengineering, pointing out areas of agreement and areas where more research is needed.
Dr. Richard A. Dixon is Distinguished Research Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and Director of the BioDiscovery Institute at the University of North Texas, Denton. He was previously Distinguished Professor and Samuel Roberts Noble Research Chair, Senior Vice President and Founding Director of the Plant Biology Division at the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, Ardmore, Oklahoma, where he worked from 1988-2013. He received his Bachelor’s and Doctoral degrees in Biochemistry and Botany from the University of Oxford, UK, and postdoctoral training in Plant Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge, UK. He was awarded the Doctor of Science degree for his research achievements by the University of Oxford in 2004. His research interests center on the biochemistry, molecular biology and metabolic engineering of plant natural product pathways and their implications for agriculture and human health, and the engineering of lignocellulosic biomass for the improvement of forage and bioenergy feedstocks. He has published over 460 papers and chapters on these and related topics in international journals. Professor Dixon is a Member of the US National Academy of Sciences (Plant and Soil Sciences Section, elected in May 2007), a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (elected in 2003), a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (elected in December 2014), a member of the Editorial Boards of five international journals, and has been named by the Institute for Scientific Information as one of the 10 most cited authors in the plant and animal sciences. Professor Dixon was a member of the National Academies’ panel that produced the 2016 report on “Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects’.