We have isolated and sequenced a 9.5 kb genomic region from A. thaliana, located on chromosome 2, which contains two tandemly arranged closely related genes (AtM10 and AtM17) coding for a new family of LEA proteins. The deduced proteins have a molecular mass of 11 and 29 kDa, respectively, are extremely hydrophilic except at their N-termini and share 70% amino acid (aa) identity. A 47 aa motif containing a 6-cysteine domain is present once in AtM10 and four times in AtM17. The short intergenic region, the identical position of the intron and the overall sequence homology suggest that these two genes evolved through a duplication event. This conclusion is supported by the presence of two homologous strictosidine synthase-like (pseudo)genes downstream from AtM17 and AtM10. Expression studies, using AtM10 and AtM17 cDNAs, revealed that both transcripts accumulate exclusively in seeds from late embryogenesis until two days after imbibition. Expression of both genes in young seedlings is repressed during ABA, salt or drought treatment, whereas a cold stress induces the expression of AtM17 only. In situ hybridization revealed that AtM10 transcripts are detected throughout the embryo while those of AtM17 are more localized to cotyledon cells.