Serine biosynthesis in plants proceeds by two pathways; the glycolate pathway which is associated with photorespiration and the pathway from 3-phosphoglycerate which is presumed to take place in the plastids. The 3-phosphoglycerate pathway (phosphorylated pathway) involves three enzymes catalyzing three sequential reactions: 3-phosphoglycerate dehydrogenase (PGDH), 3-phosphoserine aminotransferase (PSAT) and 3-phosphoserine phosphatase (PSP). cDNA and genomic clones encoding these three enzymes from spinach and Arabidopsis thaliana were isolated by means of heterologous probe screening, homologous EST clones and genetic complementation in an Escherichia coli mutant. The identity of the isolated cDNAs was confirmed by functional complementation of serine auxotrophy in E. coli mutants and/or the detection of catalytic activity in the recombinant enzymes produced in E. coli. Northern blot analyses indicated the most preferential expression of these three genes in light-grown roots. In contrast, the mRNAs of two proteins involved in the glycolate pathway (H-protein of glycine decarboxylase multienzyme complex and serine hydroxymethyltransferase) accumulated to high levels in light-grown shoots. Environmental stresses, such as high salinity, flooding and low temperature, induced changes in mRNA levels of enzymes in the plastidic phosphorylated serine biosynthetic pathway but not in that of the glycolate pathway. These results indicate that the plastidic 3-phosphoglycerate pathway plays an important role in supplying serine in non-photosynthetic tissues in plants and under environmental stresses.