A single factor sufficient to induce the accumulation of complex steroids in plants

Research Content and Achievements

A research team, led by Professor Tsubasa Shoji from the Institute of Natural Medicine at the University of Toyama, has achieved significant accumulation of plant steroid compounds in a short timeframe using a single control factor (transcription factor). This success stems from a collaborative study with RIKEN and the University of Tsukuba.

A diverse array of plant-derived natural products, characterized by complex chemical structures, finds wide application in medicines, dyes, perfumes, and various daily-life materials. Despite their utility, these valuable components exist in only trace amounts within plant tissues. Significantly increasing the accumulation of these trace plant compounds could enable stable production and supply of these essential chemicals.

Within plants, natural products undergo synthesis through a series of enzymatic reactions, originating from simple precursor compounds. In this study, researchers enhanced the function (transient overexpression) of the master transcription factor PhERF1, which regulates numerous genes of metabolic enzymes. By inducing the expression of over 100 metabolic enzyme genes, they successfully achieved a remarkable increase in the accumulation of complex steroidal compounds in the leaves of the garden plant petunia (Petunia hybrida) within a short period (8 days).

The homologous proteins of PhERF1 from petunia utilized in this study are present in nearly all dicotyledonous plants and are considered “universal” regulatory factors that orchestrate the synthesis of plant-specific compounds in each plant species. The application of this method, employing a single factor, to various plant species is anticipated to advance bioproduction in plants.

Publication information


Induced production of specialized steroids by transcriptional reprogramming in Petunia hybrida


Tsubasa Shoji, Satoko Sugawara, Tetsuya Mori, Makoto Kobayashi, Miyako Kusano,   Kazuki Saito

Published in

PNAS Nexus, Volume 2, Issue 10, October 2023, pgad326