The evolution of foliar terpene diversity in Myrtaceae

Amanda Padovan*, András Keszei, Carsten Külheim, William J. Foley

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    59 Citations (Scopus)


    Plant terpenes play many roles in natural systems, from altering plant-animal interactions, to altering the local abiotic environment. Additionally, many industries depend on terpenes. For example, commercially used essential oils, including tea tree oil and lavender oil, are a mixture of terpenes. Many species of the family Myrtaceae form a key resource for these industries due to the high concentration of terpenes found predominately in their leaves. The frequency of chemotypic differences within many species and populations can lead to costly errors in industry. Terpene diversity in Myrtaceae is driven by variation in the terpene synthase enzymes, which catalyse the conversion a few common substrates into thousands of terpene structures. We review terpene diversity within and between species of Myrtaceae and relate this to variation in the terpene synthase enzymes to reconstruct the evolution of foliar terpene diversity in Myrtaceae. We found that (1) high inter- and intra-species variation exists in terpene profile and that α-pinene the most likely ancestral foliar terpene, and (2) that high concentration of 1,8-cineole (a compound which is regarded as the signature compound of Myrtaceae) is limited to just four Myrtaceae sub-families. We suggest that the terpene synthase enzymes do not limit terpene diversity in this family and variation in these enzymes suggests a mode of enzymatic evolution that could lead to high 1,8-cineole production. Our analysis highlights the need to standardise methods for collecting and reporting foliar terpene data, and we discuss some methods and issues here. Although there are many gaps in the published data, our large scale analysis using the results of many studies, shows the value of a family wide analysis for understanding both the evolution and industrial potential of terpene-producing plants.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)695-716
    Number of pages22
    JournalPhytochemistry Reviews
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - Sept 2014


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