Method for Improved Production of Terpenoids Using Co-Engineered Lipid Droplets and Anchoring of Terpene Biosynthetic Enzymes on Their Surface


Executive Summary


This technology addresses one of the main hurdles of plant production and extraction of terpenoids by capturing desired terpenes in lipid droplets in plant cells.  The lipid droplets are readily extracted using standard processes used in the vegetable oil and biodiesel industries, and the high-value terpenes can be easily separated from the lipids. The limited economic sustainability of formal (petro-) chemical synthesis and extraction and purification from the native plant source has motivated biotechnological approaches to produce industrially relevant terpenoids. This technology improves both terpene accumulation and ease of purification, representing a significant improvement on current production methods in plants. 


Description of Technology


Plant-derived terpenoids have a wide range of industrial uses such as specialty fuels, agrochemicals, fragrances, nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals. Production of terpenoids in plants faces difficulties both in overall yield and in clean extraction of the desired compound from the plant.  Anchoring terpene production to cytosolic lipid droplets overcomes both of these problems. The lipid droplet containing the desired terpene removes potentially toxic compounds from the cellular environment, allowing the compound to accumulate without harming the plant or activating negative feedback loops. Moreover, concentration of the terpenoid in lipid droplets allows for a simplified vegetable-oil-based extraction process. Use of a previously patented MSU technology (TEC2000-0092 and TEC2015-0075) enables increased accumulation of triacylglycerols, promoting droplet production. This is expressed along with a lipid droplet surface protein and diterpenoid biosynthetic enzymes modified to anchor on the lipid droplets.  Diterpenoids naturally partition into the lipid droplets, thus “trapping” the terpenoids and facilitating extraction.


Key Benefits:

  • Multi-enzyme complexes on NoLDSP allow for high productivity of terpenoids with modified functional groups
  • Sequestering of terpenoid products in lipid droplets reduces negative feedback and toxicity to cells caused by high levels of terpenoid synthesis
  • Increased economic value of high-biomass yielding crops with dual products of biofuel (oil form lipid droplets) and terpenes
  • Easier harvest of products compared to extractions from resins or small structures like trichomes



  • Production of alternate fuels and terpenoid co-products
  • Potential impact on the following markets: Biofuel, Pharmaceutical, Cosmetics, Food Industry, Agricultural Chemicals
  • Possible development in yeast and other oleaginous fungi


Patent Status:


United States provisional patent application filed August, 2018


Licensing Rights Available:


Full rights available for TEC209-0153.  Non-exclusive or field-exclusive license rights available for TEC200-0092/ TEC2015-0075




Bjoern Hamberger, Ph.D.; Radin Sadre, Ph.D.; Christoph Benning, Ph.D.


Tech ID:




Patent Information:

For Information, Contact:

Thomas Herlache
Assistant Director
Michigan State University