Secondary metabolites are an important source of high-value chemicals, many of which exhibit important pharmacological properties. These valuable natural products are often difficult to synthesize chemically and are commonly isolated through inefficient extractions from natural biological sources. As such, they are increasingly targeted for production by biosynthesis from engineered microorganisms. The budding yeast species Saccharomyces cerevisiae has proven to be a powerful microorganism for heterologous expression of biosynthetic pathways. S. cerevisiae's usefulness as a host organism is owed in large part to the wealth of knowledge accumulated over more than a century of intense scientific study. Yet many challenges are currently faced in engineering yeast strains for the biosynthesis of complex secondary metabolite production. However, synthetic biology is advancing the development of new tools for constructing, controlling, and optimizing complex metabolic pathways in yeast. Here, we review how the coupling between yeast biology and synthetic biology is advancing the use of S. cerevisiae as a microbial host for the construction of secondary metabolic pathways. © 2011 Federation of European Microbiological Societies. Published by Blackwell Publishing Ltd. All rights reserved.