Triterpenoid saponins are a diverse group of specialized (secondary) metabolites with many biological properties. The model legume Medicago truncatula has an interesting profile of triterpenoid saponins from which sapogenins are differentiated into hemolytic and non-hemolytic types according to the position of their functional groups and hemolytic properties. Gene co-expression analysis confirmed the presence of candidate P450s whose gene expression correlated highly with that of β-amyrin synthase (bAS). Among these, we identified CYP716A12 and CYP93E2 as key enzymes in hemolytic and non-hemolytic sapogenin biosynthetic pathways. The other candidate P450s showed no β-amyrin oxidation activity. However, among the remaining candidate P450s, CYP72A61v2 expression highly correlated with that of CYP93E2, and CYP72A68v2 expression highly correlated with that of CYP716A12. These correlation values were higher than occurred with bAS expression. We generated yeast strains expressing bAS, CPR, CYP93E2 and CYP72A61v2, and bAS, CPR, CYP716A12 and CYP72A68v2. These transgenic yeast strains produced soyasapogenol B and gypsogenic acid, respectively. We were therefore able to identify two CYP72A subfamily enzymes: CYP72A61v2, which modifies 24-OH-β-amyrin, and CYP72A68v2, which modifies oleanolic acid. Additionally, P450s that seemed not to work together in planta were combinatorially expressed in transgenic yeast. The yeast strains (expressing bAS, CPR, CYP72A63 and CYP93E2 or CYP716A12) produced rare triterpenoids that do not occur in M. truncatula. These results show the potential for combinatorial synthesis of diverse triterpenoid structures and enable identification of the enzymes involved in their biosynthesis.
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