Although amino acids are critical for all forms of life, only proteogenic amino acids that humans and animals cannot synthesize de novo and therefore must acquire in their diets are classified as essential. Nine amino acids—lysine, methionine, threonine, phenylalanine, tryptophan, valine, isoleucine, leucine, and histidine—fit this definition. Despite their nutritional importance, several of these amino acids are present in limiting quantities in many of the world's major crops. In recent years, a combination of reverse genetic and biochemical approaches has been used to define the genes encoding the enzymes responsible for synthesizing, degrading, and regulating these amino acids. In this review, we describe recent advances in our understanding of the metabolism of the essential amino acids, discuss approaches for enhancing their levels in plants, and appraise efforts toward their biofortification in crop plants.


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