Plants have been redesigned by humans since the advent of modern agriculture some 10000 years ago, to provide ever increasing benefits to society. The phenomenal success of the green revolution in converting biomass from vegetative tissues into grain yield has sustained a growing population. At the dawn of the 21st century the need to further optimise plant biomass (largely plant walls) for a sustainable future is increasingly evident as our supply of fossil fuels is finite and the quality of our crop-based foods (functional foods; also determined by the composition of walls) are critical to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Our capacity to engineer 'designer walls' suited to particular purposes is challenging plant breeders and biotechnologists in unprecedented ways. In this review we provide an overview of the critical steps in the assembly and remodelling of walls, the success (or otherwise) of such approaches and highlight another complex network, the cell surface, as a cell wall integrity (CWI) sensor that exerts control over wall composition and will need to be considered in any future modification of walls for agro-industrial purposes.
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