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.]] Terpenes () are a large and diverse class of organic compounds, produced by a variety of plants, particularly conifers, Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary and by some insects such as termites or swallowtail butterflies, which emit terpenes from their osmeteria. They often have a strong odor and may protect the plants that produce them by deterring herbivores and by attracting predators and parasites of herbivores. The difference between terpenes and terpenoids is that terpenes are hydrocarbons, whereas terpenoids contain additional functional groups. They are the major components of resin, and of turpentine produced from resin. The name "terpene" is derived from the word " turpentine". In addition to their roles as end-products in many organisms, terpenes are major biosynthetic building blocks within nearly every living creature. Steroids, for example, are derivatives of the triterpene squalene. When terpenes are modified chemically, such as by oxidation or rearrangement of the carbon skeleton, the resulting compounds are generally referred to as terpenoids. Some authors will use the term terpene to include all terpenoids. Terpenoids are also known as isoprenoids. Terpenes and terpenoids are the primary constituents of the essential oils of many types of medicinal plants and flowers. Essential oils are used widely as fragrances in perfumery, and in medicine and alternative medicines such as aromatherapy. Synthetic variations and derivatives of natural terpenes and terpenoids also greatly expand the variety of aromas used in perfumery and flavors used in food additives. Vitamin A is a terpenoid. Higher amounts of terpenes are released by trees in warmer weather, acting as a natural form of cloud seeding. The clouds reflect sunlight, allowing the forest to regulate its temperature. The aroma and flavor of hops comes, in part, from sesquiterpenes (mainly alpha-humulene and beta-caryophyllene), which affect beer quality. Terpenes are also major constituents of Cannabis sativa plants, which contain at least 120 identified compounds.

Structure and biosynthesis

Terpenes are derived biosynthetically from units of isoprene, which has the molecular formula C5H8. The basic molecular formula of terpenes are multiples of that, (C5H8)n where n is the number of linked isoprene units. This is called the biogenetic isoprene rule or the C5 rule. In 1953, Leopold Ružička discovered that the isoprene units may be linked together "head to tail" to form linear chains or they may be arranged to form rings. One can consider the isoprene unit as one of nature's common building blocks. As chains of isoprene units accumulate, the resulting terpenes are classified sequentially by size as hemiterpenes, monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes, diterpenes, sesterterpenes, triterpenes, and tetraterpenes, all synthesized by terpene synthase. Isoprene itself does not undergo the building process, but rather activated forms, isopentenyl pyrophosphate (IPP or also isopentenyl diphosphate) and dimethylallyl pyrophosphate (DMAPP or also dimethylallyl diphosphate), are the components in the biosynthetic pathway. IPP is formed from acetyl-CoA via the intermediacy of mevalonic acid in the HMG-CoA reductase pathway. An alternative, totally unrelated biosynthesis pathway of IPP is known in some bacterial groups and the plastids of plants, the so-called MEP(2-Methyl-D-erythritol-4-phosphate)-pathway, which is initiated from C5-sugars. In both pathways, IPP is isomerized to DMAPP by the enzyme isopentenyl pyrophosphate isomerase.


Terpenes may be classified by the number of isoprene units in the molecule; a prefix in the name indicates the number of terpene units needed to assemble the molecule.


Terpenes have properties as chemicals in food, cosmetics, pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. Chemical synthesis of terpenes can be problematic because of their complex structure, and plants produce small amounts of terpenes, making it difficult, time-consuming and expensive to extract them directly from plants. The genomes of 17 plant species contain genes that encode terpenoid synthase enzymes imparting terpenes with their basic structure, and cytochrome P450s that modify this basic structure. Research into terpenes has found that many of them possess qualities that make them useful active ingredients as part of natural agricultural pesticides. Terpenes are used by termites of the Nasutitermitinae family to ward off predatory insects, through the use of a specialized mechanism called a fontanellar gun.


External links

"green air" © 2007 - Ingo Malchow, Webdesign Neustrelitz
This article based upon the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terpene, the free encyclopaedia Wikipedia and is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.
Further informations available on the list of authors and history: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Terpene&action=history
presented by: Ingo Malchow, Mirower Bogen 22, 17235 Neustrelitz, Germany