Plant cell walls consist predominantly of polysaccharides and lignin. There has been a surge of research activity in plant cell wall biology in recent years, in two key areas. Firstly, in the area of human health it is now recognized that cell wall polysaccharides are key components of dietary fiber, which carries significant health benefits. Secondly, plant cell walls are major constituents of lignocellulosic residues that are being developed as renewable sources of liquid transport biofuels. In both areas, the cell walls of the Poaceae, which include the cereals and grasses, are particularly important. The non-cellulosic wall polysaccharides of the Poaceae differ in comparison with those of other vascular plants, insofar as they contain relatively high levels of heteroxylans as "core" polysaccharide constituents and relatively smaller amounts of heteromannans, pectic polysaccharides, and xyloglucans. Certain grasses and cereals walls also contain (1,3;1,4)-β-glucans, which are not widely distributed outside the Poaceae. Although some genes involved in cellulose, heteroxylan, and (1,3;1,4)-β-glucan synthesis have been identified, mechanisms that control expression of the genes are not well defined. Here we review current knowledge of cell wall biology in plants and highlight emerging technologies that are providing new and exciting insights into the most challenging questions related to the synthesis, re-modeling and degradation of wall polysaccharides.
Keywords: biofuels; cell biology; gene identification; glycosyl transferases; human health; polysaccharide biosynthesis; regulation.