One of the most exciting developments in the study of secondary metabolites, not touched on in this chapter, is the sequencing and annotation of bacterial genomes. Genome mining has detected a plethora of potential chemistry still to be revealed. Challenges also await as scientists endeavor to elucidate the mechanisms that regulate the expression of these cryptic pathways. Issues of supply of these precious materials have frequently plagued the efforts of drug discovery from higher organisms, such as marine sponges or plants. But there is hope. Jay Keasling's work on engineering of a high-producing terpene cyclase pathway in bacteria promises to enable large-scale economical production of the antimalarial drug artemisinin and thereby unlock the supply chain for these life-saving chemicals.
Natural products remain a fascinating and incredibly rich source of leads for drug discovery. Owing to developments in chemical and biosynthetic technologies, the moment is right for the exploration for new chemistry and further exploitation of known secondary metabolites. The advances in molecular biology will enable experiments aimed at a more fundamental understanding of the intrinsic biological roles for secondary metabolites and this knowledge can be expected to illuminate future applications in drug research.
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