Terpenes: flavours, fragrances, pharmaca, pheromones

Terpenes: flavours, fragrances, pharmaca, pheromones

Eberhard Breitmaier

Weinheim, Germany: Wiley-VCH 2006 | 224pp | ?34.95 (HB) ISBN 9783527317868

Reviewed by Jim Hanson

The study of the structures, synthesis and biosynthesis of the terpenes have made major contributions to the development of organic chemistry. This introductory textbook is aimed at students of chemistry and biochemistry starting work with this fascinating and biologically important group of natural products.

The first chapter of the book describes the biosynthesis of the terpenes, including the recently discovered 1-deoxyxylulose pathway, to isopentenyl diphosphate. This is a brief introduction and consequently it covers little of the mechanistic and emerging enzymatic detail in this area. It is a pity that here and elsewhere in the book there is not a clear distinction made between what is biogenetic speculation and what has been established by biosynthetic experimentation. 

A large part of the book is devoted to a description of the sources of the major families of terpenoids. It is always difficult in a short book to decide what to include and what to leave out. Nevertheless the trichothecene mycotoxins deserve a mention. Diterpenoids occur in both enantiomeric series and the use of the ’ent’ nomenclature to describe these isomers is something a student is likely to come across. 

The final chapters are on the synthesis, structure elucidation and the relationship between structure and odour. The terpenes have provided the testing ground for many synthetic strategies for constructing different ring systems. 

The examples that have been chosen illustrate a number of these. The bibliography gives a number of useful references although it is a pity that the student is not directed to the numerous reviews on the terpenoids which have appeared in Natural product reviews.

The book is a translation of the second German edition. The translation has been done well although there are a few instances where mistakes have crept in. However the book contains a wealth of information and it fulfils its purpose of providing an interesting and broad introduction to the terpenes.