The β-cyanoalanine synthase pathway: beyond cyanide detoxification

Marylou Machingura, Eitan Salomon, Joseph M. Jez, Stephen D. Ebbs

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Production of cyanide through biological and environmental processes requires the detoxification of this metabolic poison. In the 1960s, discovery of the β-cyanoalanine synthase (β-CAS) pathway in cyanogenic plants provided the first insight on cyanide detoxification in nature. Fifty years of investigations firmly established the protective role of the β-CAS pathway in cyanogenic plants and its role in the removal of cyanide produced from ethylene synthesis in plants, but also revealed the importance of this pathway for plant growth and development and the integration of nitrogen and sulfur metabolism. This review describes the β-CAS pathway, its distribution across and within higher plants, and the diverse biological functions of the pathway in cyanide assimilation, plant growth and development, stress tolerance, regulation of cyanide and sulfide signalling, and nitrogen and sulfur metabolism. The collective roles of the β-CAS pathway highlight its potential evolutionary and ecological importance in plants.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2329-2341
Number of pages13
JournalPlant, Cell & Environment
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2016


  • cyanide
  • cyanide detoxification
  • nitrilase
  • nitrile hydratase
  • β-cyanoalanine
  • β-cyanoalanine synthase


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