Plant cell walls are the starting materials for many commercial products, from lumber, paper and textiles to thickeners, films and explosives. The cell wall is secreted by each cell in the plant body, forming a thin fibreglass-like network with remarkable strength and flexibility. During growth, plant cells secrete a protein called expansin, which unlocks the network of wall polysaccharides, permitting turgor-driven cell enlargement. Germinating grass pollen also secretes an unusual expansin that loosens maternal cell walls to aid penetration of the stigma by the pollen tube. Expansin's action has puzzling implications for plant cell-wall structure. The recent explosion of gene sequences and expression data has given new hints of additional biological functions for expansins.