Examples of a variety of approaches for studying the mechanism and regulation of cellulose biosynthesis are presented. Attempts to demonstrate conclusively a cellulose synthase activity using membrane preparations derived from higher plants have not been successful; the predominant UDP-glucose: beta-glucan-beta-glucosyltransferase detected in these preparations is a beta-(1----3)-glucan synthase that is dependent upon Ca2+ and a beta-glucobiose, such as laminaribiose or cellobiose, for activity. Xyloglucan glucosyltransferase activity is detected in all plant preparations examined and, in cotton fibres, the activity of this enzyme correlates well with the level of xyloglucan found in the fibre. Low activity for a Mg2+-dependent beta-(1----4)-glucan synthase is found in extracts from soybeans and mung beans, but not cotton fibres; this enzyme could represent either a dissociated form of xyloglucan glucosyltransferase or a partially latent form of cellulose synthase. In vitro translation of RNA from developing cotton fibres shows notable increases in the level of several relatively abundant translatable mRNAs associated with the time of onset of secondary-wall cellulose synthesis. In order to determine whether these apparent changes in gene expression represent enhanced expression of specific genes required for cellulose synthesis, several strategies are being developed for identification of specific polypeptides required for this process. One strategy involves the successful development of a technique for detection of glucan synthase activity in acrylamide gels, a technique that should prove useful for characterization of the polypeptide composition of such enzymes. We have also synthesized a photoaffinity analogue of 2,6-dichlorobenzonitrile (DCB), a potent and specific inhibitor of cellulose synthesis. The analogue is also an effective inhibitor in vivo, and upon ultraviolet irradiation of extracts in the presence of the radioactive analogue, we observe a relatively specific labelling of a polypeptide of 18 X 10(3)Mr. Finally, we have studied the spatial regulation and structural requirements for cellulose synthesis in internode cells of the alga Chara corallina. Cellulose deposition in vivo shows spatial localization, which correlates with acid and base bands along the cell. Using internodes perfused with solutions containing UDP-[14C]glucose and subsequently ligated, we were able to demonstrate synthesis of a highly insoluble cell-wall-localized glucan, thus offering hope that Chara can be developed as another useful system for studying the mechanism and regulation of cellulose synthesis.