Document Type



Master of Science



Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

Wendy M Olivas, PhD


Toni Kutchan, Ph.D.

Bethany Zolman, Ph.D.


The steroid alkaloid cyclopamine has shown much promise as a treatment for cancers in which aberrant hedgehog signaling plays a role. The compound, originally discovered due to its teratogenic effects in sheep, binds to the hedgehog signaling receptor Smoothend and prevents downstream activation. As this pathway is primarily active during embryonic development, overactivation later in life can lead to tumor formation and proliferation. Several studies have shown that cyclopamine can inhibit and even reverse tumor growth, but limited supply will prevent widespread use upon FDA approval of it or any of its semi-synthetic analogs. As high value plant medicinal compounds are in demand, producing them at industrially feasible levels is not always possible. Many plant natural products are originally produced in low quantities and often from species that are not amendable to cultivation. Production of these compounds in a heterologous system is ideal, but first the underlying genes that encode biosynthetic enzymes must be discovered. Cyclopamine is produced in one of these non-ideal sources, the slow growing Veratrum californicum, a species that has not been successfully cultivated. Our goal was to discover the underlying genes in the biosynthetic pathway to cyclopamine and express them in the emerging heterologous production system Camelina sativa. Herein, the first four genes in the biosynthetic steroid alkaloid pathway to verazine, a hypothesized intermediate of cyclopamine, have been discovered by correlating gene expression and alkaloid accumulation. In addition, the genes have been successfully introduced into C. sativa under the control of seed specific promoters for the production of V. californicum secondary metabolites in seed. Future work requires discovery of the remaining cyclopamine biosynthetic genes and metabolic fine tuning for increased metabolite yield, but the groundwork has been set for future work using C. sativa as a production system for high value, medicinally significant, plant natural products.

Additional Files

10276_12053_supplemental_figure_S16.pdf (27 kB)

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