The plant cell wall is a complex structure consisting of a variety of polymers including cellulose, xyloglucan, xylan and polygalacturonan. Biochemical and genetic analysis has made it possible to clone genes encoding cellulose synthases (CesA). A comparison of the predicted protein sequences in the Arabidopsis genome indicates that 30 divergent genes with similarity to CesAs exist. It is possible that these cellulose synthase-like (Csl) proteins do not contribute to cellulose synthesis, but rather to the synthesis of other wall polymers. A major challenge is, therefore, to assign biological function to these genes. In an effort to address this issue we have systematically identified T-DNA or transposon insertions in 17 Arabidopsis Csls. Phenotypic characterization of ‘knock-out’ mutants includes the determination of spectroscopic profile differences in mutant cell walls from wild-type plants by Fourier-transform IR microscopy. A more precise characterization includes cell wall fractionation followed by neutral sugar composition analysis by anionic exchange chromatography.

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